Why ITS Policy Matters

INTERSECT17’s theme, “It’s time we had the talk,” is about generating new thought and sometimes controversial ideas.

In a panel discussion entitled “Why ITS Policy Matters,” when asked to discuss where we are on the path to fully autonomous vehicles, Alain Kornhauser, Director of Princeton University’s Program in Transportation responded, “We’re still at zero.” While many technical issues surrounding driverless vehicles have been solved, social issues including liability, privacy and the increasing threat of a hack or full scale cyber-attack threat are incredibly polarizing, and will require deep discussion and compromise to be resolved.

In a lively discussion moderated by Alliance for Transportation Innovation CEO, Paul Brubaker, other panelists were somewhat more optimistic citing the safety and mobility benefits of full autonomy as well as a variety of other advantages. Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters who served during the Bush (43) administration told a very personal story about her aging father. “I had to personally take away his driver’s license and I tell people he began to die that day,” she said. Highlighting the benefit of a vehicle that drives itself, she said, “That doesn’t have to be the case in the future.”

Patrick Son, Managing Director of the National Operations Center of Excellence sees overcoming the unresolved issues as a collaborative effort. “Transportation is not going to resolve this,” he said reminding the audience that many industries are also facing cyber and liability issues. “There’s a convergence occurring on how we’re going to get there.”

Panelists agreed that the safety implications of driverless vehicles are too profound to be held back by unresolved issues suggesting they will be fixed in legislation and regulation. “Safety is number one,” said Kornhauser. “Why is the private sector involved in all of this? It’s safety.” He added that reducing the number of fatalities in crashes from 40,000 deaths on America’s roads each year down to 4,000 will require advanced technology, but also questioned why car manufacturers are sending a mixed safety message. “My speedometer in my car shows 160 miles per hour. That’s irresponsible,” he said.

Transportation Infrastructure Security Suggested Practices

Cyber security is the elephant in any ITS room. At the opening day of GRIDSMART’s INTERSECT17 Rick Tiene, VP of Government and Critical Infrastructure at Mission Secure Inc. and Patrick Son, Managing Director of the National Operations Center of Excellence (NOCoE) brought the elephant out of the corner and into the open. In a session entitled Mission Secure: Transportation Infrastructure Security Suggested Practices, Tiene said, “We assume that the network is already violated. The questions is, what damage can it do?”

Son, whose agency is a non-profit trade association with the goal of advancing and sharing best practices in traffic systems management and operations (TSMO), pointed out that the threat and accompanying strategies for defeating the danger are not without precedent. “A lot of where the industry is going needs to mirror more established industries,” he said. “At some point, you’re going to be attacked. At some point your system is going to fail. How well you react is key.”

Before an audience of traffic engineers, equipment distributors and GRIDSMART partners, Mission Secure’s Tiene related how, during a recent table-top exercise to simulate a cyber-attack on an East Coast city, a participant’s computer was actually hacked. With the advances in transportation “The fact that they can get in is not fantasy at all,” he said.

Looming largest among the litany of threat concerns is the advent of driverless vehicles. “Add autonomous vehicles to the mix and the value of an attack goes up,” said Tiene. So how can the ITS industry and all its partners protect traffic and infrastructure into the future? NOCoE’s Son says at least two national initiatives to establish a cyber security framework are underway and could be ready for industry consumption in a little more than a year. One of those efforts is a collaboration between some of transportation’s most respected agencies including ITE, AASHTO, ITS America and others. But even before that release, Mission Secure’s Tiene defined a patent-pending strategy of monitoring systems for anomalies, detecting problems, informing operators of issues, correcting the issue and ultimately collecting data about the attack.

Tiene took a moment to reinforce that cyber attacks on departments of transportation are not hypothetical and have already happened. “People don’t want to broadcast it and luckily there hasn’t been huge damage,” he said. “They can’t go green-green, but they can do damage.”

Keeping People Connected: The Importance of Understanding Basic Networking

INTERSECT17, GRIDSMART’s annual high-tech transportation event, started out with a riveting day of training with distributors and end-users from around the world. While there are intense discussions this week about cybersecurity and the intricacies of keeping the bad guys out, sometimes it’s important to go back to basics and not take for granted those areas with smaller budgets that are now taking their transportation systems into a connected and networked world.

For this reason, Steve Atkins, Traffic Systems/IT Field Engineer with Northeast Signal based in Elbridge, New York, hosted a session entitled, “Intro to Networking in ITS,” to make sure that there is a base-level of knowledge for those regions expanding their traffic systems.

“Not everybody came up through the ranks and learned the same skills the same way,” says Atkins. “Technology continues to evolve at breakneck speed and it’s extremely important for transportation professionals in our interconnected world to understand the basics of networks and how to keep them secure.”

He pointed out that many smaller to mid-sized cities and regions began to build networks with limited budgets, pieced together over time without the benefit of dedicated IT support. Often times, it was the best that could be done in the moment, but now that we are moving toward connected and autonomous vehicles, those networks are going to expand exponentially with a dramatic increase in data.

He says, “Imagine a network as a room full of 100 people. It would be easier to identify a bad actor or device if you put 20 people into 4 smaller rooms. That’s why designing smaller, more efficient networks is critical to maintaining safety, but a lot of networks have never been planned out. They were just put together, piece by piece.”

Atkins said it will be critical moving forward to have IT departments become true partners in the planning of traffic information networks, which traditionally has not been the case. As our intersections and traffic boxes create and communicate more data, it will be imperative that these public safety devices are protected like other networks within government, because the whole system is only as strong as its weakest point.