The Android Car

, 2019-03-04

I've been a car guy for most of my life, admiring them, owning quite a few (20+), and enjoying lots of time behind the wheel of a vehicle. I've been lucky enough to own my dream car for a few years and even had the chance to drive a few unusual cards. While I haven't driven a Tesla, I have ridden in one when the pedal was mashed to the floorboard (thanks, @GlennAlanBerry). That's quite an experience, and one I'd recommend if you don't have heart issues.

This week I ran across a note that Volvo's spin-off brand, Polestar, was unveiling an all electric car. This is their answer to a changing world where it seems every manufacturer wants to combat Tesla with an electric version of something. I might consider the Porsche Macan in an all electric version at some point, but the Polestar 2 is interesting for a reason besides the electric drive train. It's the first production car that is build around Google's Android system as the operating system for the car. There are entertainment systems using Android Auto, but this is a step higher.

What I find interesting, and perhaps disturbing, is this move to more electronic integration for our vehicles, and the potential for issues if the operating system fails. I already think that we've built a few too many integrations in mechanical cars at times, where we can't easily open doors, tow cars, or more if the electrical system fails. While I trust a plane or ship more because they are better maintained by mechanics, I worry about the durability and potential issues with updates for cars that are in daily use by users that might not take the best car of them. After all, people drive every day with small mechanical issues. I worry what this will mean for autos.

There's also the trust that we must have in both Google and Volvo to ensure that security is tight, patches are extremely well tested, and perhaps just as important, our privacy is respected. Google already gathers lots of data about us; do we want to give them more about how lifestyle? Will they sell data to insurance companies or others? I don't know what other data might be captured, but I do worry that there are issues I haven't considered, especially around security. Maybe even more disconcerting might be the charges for keys, updates, and more that will get added onto already expensive vehicles. What if systems become locked down to the point that only vendor mechanics can work on them?

I like the idea of better designed and more efficient vehicles, and think that all electric is the future. This despite my longing for a manual transmission in my next car. However, I'm not quite sure I'm ready to trust a phone operating system to run lots of parts of my car. Already I think there ought to be open-source, embedded systems for any mechanical control  and security features that are completely separate from entertainment, without any access to the outside world. While I like DevOps and innovative software, what I worry about is the focus from many companies on features and costs, and not on security and quality. 

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