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How will future cars stay up-to-date? Make them open like a PC

The future seems bright for the automobile. A whole host of technologies—including self-driving systems – is set to reinvent the auto industry, making cars more computerized than ever.

But not everyone shares a rosy outlook.  

“I know what is going to happen in the future and I don’t like it,” said Bruce Perens, a leading open source advocate.  “And I would like to guide it in a somewhat different direction.”

His fear is that consumers who buy next-generation cars will face obstacles to modifying or repairing them—like purchasing a smartphone, only far more expensive, with manufacturers in sole control over the tech upgrades.

In other words, the car of the future might operate as a closed system. But Perens and data privacy lawyer Lothar Determann are proposing that the auto industry consider taking a page from the tech world, and make vehicles more like PCs.  

“The car has become a computer on wheels. Why isn’t it more like a PC?” said Determann, a partner at law firm Baker McKenzie, Palo Alto, who also teaches technology law at the University of California Berkley and in Germany.

Open vs. Closed

The two have written a soon-to-be published paper, intending to spark discussion over this idea about “open cars,” or next-generation vehicles that will be open to tech upgrades, third-party products and security researchers.

Drivers can already upgrade their rides with better tires, more powerful stereo systems, and an assortment of aftermarket parts. But tweaking the computers in cars has run up against intellectual property laws, which concerns Perens. He can easily envision a future where automakers have control over the core tech, and sensitive data, contained in cars—a prospect he believes will have big downsides for consumers.   

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