UK.gov expects auto auto software updates won't involve users

Stopped at a service station? Tough – your self-driving car's just been bricked

AEV Bill The British government expects that most future software updates to driverless cars will be pushed into the vehicles over-the-air without any user involvement.

The rather surprising expectation was outlined in a letter from transport minister Baroness Sugg to peers in the House of Lords who are currently debating the Automated and Electric Vehicle Bill.

If you assume that software updates will be pushed without any user involvement, you also assume that users will not be able to choose when updates are applied – raising the spectre of dodgy patches bricking vehicles at rest stops mid-journey. As Reg readers know, botched patches can and do happen.

"In practice, we are expecting that the overwhelming majority of software updates will be automatically installed over-the-air without the owner needing to do anything," Sugg wrote to the Lords (PDF). "Clause 4 is there to deal with the small number of potential situations where an insured person does need to act to install a safety critical update."

Clause 4 of the bill currently states that insurers can refuse to pay out after a crash if there is "a failure to install safety-critical software updates that the insured person knows, or ought reasonably to know, are safety-critical".

The bill is being debated by peers in the House of Lords over the next week or so. A number of amendments have been put down for debate, including one by Conservative Lord Borwick, who wants it to be made a criminal offence to delete data from a driverless car involved in a crash. The proposed crime would be punishable with two years in prison – with accused data-destroyers having a defence if they prove that the files weren't scrubbed "with the intent of perverting the course of justice".

Lord Tunnicliffe, a Labour peer, has also proposed making it illegal to use an auto auto in auto mode "unless the application software relating to the vehicle's automated function is up to date". A one-time head of Transport for London who previously worked as a trade union official, Tunnicliffe did not respond, when contacted via the Labour Lords secretariat, for comment on this plan. ®

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