The problem with driverless cars...

RIPE NCC’s managing director, Axel Pawlick, discusses how the computer industry needs to safeguard the future growth of the internet
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RIPE NCC’s managing director, Axel Pawlick, discusses how the computer industry needs to safeguard the future growth of the internetEmbracing what could be the next big automotive revolution, the UK Government plans to allow driverless cars on roads by 2015.

Combining telecommunications and engineering innovation, these cars will include internet connections to help them navigate. It’s another demonstration of the power and flexibility of the internet.

Internet connected cars is a rapidly growing market. Machina research predicts that 90 per cent of new cars will be wired up to the internet by 2020, up from just 10 per cent today. That includes everything from traditional in-car entertainment, through to live reporting on the state of the car’s mechanical well-being, to the exciting new prospect of cars effectively driving themselves.

However, the automotive revolution faces a problem; IP addresses, which every internet-connected device requires. When IP addresses were first designed over 30 years ago, it simply wasn’t known how popular the internet would be, so the current standard, IPv4, only allows for 4.6 billion connections. That may sound like a big number, but we’ve already reached the exhaustion point across parts of the world.

With the explosion of devices like smartphones and the Internet of Things, there aren’t enough IPv4 addresses for our current requirements, let alone if you were to add in millions of cars. The RIPE NCC’s service region of Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia started allocating IPv4 addresses from our final block back in 2012, and we’re now running special measures as part of our exhaustion policy.

When you consider the constant internet-related innovation, it’s clear that a new solution needs to be implemented to safeguard the future growth of the internet and allow internet-related innovation to continue. The answer to the problem is IPv6, which replaces IPv4. It allows for 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses, so there’s no chance we’ll run out any time soon.

Unfortunately IPv4 and IPv6 aren’t compatible, so devices will need to be able to deal with both protocols in the short-term, before we can switch fully to IPv6. Currently, some people are looking at ways to ‘make do’ by using technological workarounds such as Carrier Grade NAT. These work by sharing one address between many people, but that creates a single failure point – if one NAT fails, dozens of cars could be affected.

While these solutions may work in some cases in the short-term, they’re ultimately flawed. IPv6 is the only long-term answer.

IPv6 underpins the future growth of the internet, and there needs to be a concerted effort from the entire community, including governments and car manufacturers, to deploy IPv6. This is all that can prevent the next generation of intelligent cars from remaining decidedly dumb.

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