The Wheels Race: Adapting eGovernment to Emerging Auto Technologies

While there are many catalysts to this growth—not the least of which is public demand—one of the factors requiring the further movement of government services into the digital environment has been the growth of emerging auto technologies.

For quite some time, the government has partnered with the automotive industry in a regulatory capacity. However, due to these emerging auto technologies, the degree to which the government will need to both support and oversee this industry will only continue to grow.

There are two primary industry shifts necessitating increased involvement from eGovernment:

  • Modifications in the ways vehicles are powered
  • An increase in vehicle automation

While it will likely be some time before we stop using fossil fuels, the tide is turning on this front, with more makes and models running partially or even entirely on electricity. The benefits of this shift are obvious, since the effects of carbon emissions on the environment are now well documented. The government’s acknowledgement of this fact was affirmed with the 2009 Executive Order 13514, which demanded regular and measurable action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the public administration of this order and global shift away from reliance on fossil fuels are no easy tasks.

The growing connectivity of contemporary cars adds to the degree in which government involvement is necessary. Today’s automobiles are just one part of the Internet of Things (IoT) network. As vehicles continue to become less reliant on people and more reliant on the internet and emerging auto technologies like autonomous and self-driving cars, adapting eGovernment to accommodate them will likewise be needed. While the current platform offers conveniences such as online fee payment and vehicle registration, it will now need to concentrate its efforts on technological advancements and policies that shape the very future of the automotive industry itself.

Energy sharing via the grid

As more vehicles begin to rely on electricity in place of typical fossil fuels, charging stations will continue to pop up around the country.

Currently, many of these charging stations are funded government projects. In California, for example, a $600-thousand state Energy Commission grant allowed for the installation of electric charging stations at locations around the state. While the rising instance of charging station implementation may be a boon for construction workers who install them, concern still remains regarding the fidelity and regularity of their use. As The Washington Times reported in 2015, many owners of electric vehicles aren’t currently utilizing these stations, creating frustration for governmental leaders who have authorized their being put in and diverted the funds necessary to do so.

Developing vehicle-to-grid technologies make powering electric cars even more sustainable and eco-friendly. Unlike a typical charging station, which is merely connected to the local power supply, one that is vehicle-to-grid enabled provides a dedicated and often cleaner method of recharging. In such a system, power sources are connected directly to charging stations, home garages and parking lots.

As technology continues to advance, the benefits of a vehicle-to-grid system increase, as well. For example, at several Air Force bases around the country, researchers are exploring two-way vehicle-to-grid charging stations where cars that need power pull from the grid while cars that have an excess give back. This technology promises to make the system even more self-sufficient and green.

Risks of vehicle connectivity

Vehicle operation has always come with risks. As emerging auto technologies become reality, the number and types of hazards drivers and pedestrians face increase proportionally. However, with careful planning, federal decision makers can go about adapting eGovernment to help mitigate these through the implementation of strategic policies, procedures and systems.

Both automotive industry professionals and government agencies have voiced concerns about how much the growing fleet of connected cars presents a tempting target to would-be hackers. While there is some disagreement as to the ease with which cars can be hacked, the threat remains prominent enough to encourage lawmakers to take action. They’ve begun collaborating with the auto industry for better protection of judicial and private citizen vehicle systems against cyber threats and malicious tampering.

Eric Friedberg, executive chairman of cyber security firm Stroz Friedberg, provided insight on the complexities associated with mitigating these hacking risks. He even recommended allocating funds for hiring individuals to try to hack into vehicle systems in order to identify and address vulnerabilities.

Issues maintaining data privacy represent yet another challenge for automakers and government officials in regards to emerging auto technologies. Modern cars are interconnected with other data-containing devices, such as mobile phones. A growing number of vehicles contain data themselves as well, which offers new channels for identity theft. Automakers are actively working to combat this new opportunity for criminal opportunists.

In fact, in January of 2016, a conglomerate of automakers was officially established voluntary standards regarding these innovations in what is known as Safety Principles for Vehicle Technologies and Services. While this is a promising start, developing a sufficiently comprehensive set of guidelines is an ongoing process, one in which legislators will undoubtedly become involved.

Still, while emerging auto technologies do create some risks, they undeniably reduce others. For instance, vehicle tracking and monitoring tools could make monitoring homeland security easier for governmental agencies. By harnessing the power of these new innovations, lawmakers may be better able to track potential criminals and avoid even large-scale terrorist attacks.

Enhanced ease of oversight

The transportation network is only as safe as the cars, trucks and buses that comprise it. For this reason, vehicle inspection—particularly of larger vehicles—has long been a government mandate.

Though the proliferation of technology related to the motor vehicle market has introduced some new complications, it has at the same time made some processes easier—especially given the growth of internet-based eGovernment. For example, with the aid of new technologies, the once tedious process of vehicle inspection has become easier and more reliable. Existing technologies allow for the rapid roadside inspection of trucks and buses, increasing the likelihood that dangerous vehicles are identified and removed from the road. The improvements cut down on the work of regulatory agencies, while at the same time lessening the drudgery for busy operators of large vehicles. Currently under development and in testing are systems that would make the same automatic vehicle inspection available to all automobiles, reports the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Challenge of keeping pace

Increased consumer demand for convenience and innovation drives the IT and automotive industries to research, develop and implement new technology at a staggering rate. What’s more, there exists the ever-present motivation of profit, with large amounts of money to be made in both sectors. This steep curve puts pressure on eGovernment not only to keep up but to be proactive, anticipating future moves in both the IT and automotive industries.

What was once science fiction is now very much a reality. From testing of autonomous vehicles and connected highways to hovercrafts, new opportunities—and new dangers—will only continue to emerge. Never before has the need for government regulatory measures been so necessary, to ensure that safety of these emerging auto technologies is not sacrificed for speedy profits and that new connected conveniences are not exploited by those with nefarious intent. As such, it behooves government agencies to turn focused attention to its involvement in this rapidly escalating field of automotive technology.