The European self-driving car company Vedecom Tech and Israel’s Karamba Security announced in June 2017 that they are partnering to develop a fully autonomous car. According to the announcement, the completely autonomous vehicles will be launched for commercial use in late 2017 and 2018 by municipalities in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands. David Barzilai, Karamba’s executive chairman, informed Reuters that the first vehicles will be “short-haul” cars available for tourists in Versailles and will drive on about four miles of specially assigned lanes.
Vedecom Tech will equip the new vehicles with Karamba Security’s Carwall and Autonomous Security software, which will help protect the cars’ electronic control units against the risk of hacking. Karamba’s systems will protect the car from possible cyberattacks on external communications between vehicles and surrounding infrastructure as well as the car’s internal electronics. In their announcement, the companies said, “This marks the industry’s first production of cyberattack-secured, commercially-available automobiles.”
Vedecom Tech is a commercial subsidiary of Vedecom Public Foundation, an organization dedicated to developing autonomous transportation with several companies in the European automotive industry, including Renault, Peugeot and Valeo. Karamba Security is an Israeli company that provides cybersecurity for connected and autonomous vehicles.
New technologies often present liability risks, and autonomous vehicles are no exception. The perceived responsibility for road traffic incidents would shift from drivers to the manufacturer of the vehicle. While adding software providing security from cyberattacks is an important safety feature, companies still risk liability if the software should fail to prevent an attack. The European Product Liability Directive 85/374 EEC (implemented in the U.K. by the Consumer Protection Act 1987) imposes strict liability for defective products if the claimant proves a defect (i.e., the claimant does not need to prove fault). The manufacturer will be liable if the defect causes damage. A court will consider a product to be defective if its safety “is not such as persons are generally entitled to expect.” In addition to undertaking rigorous testing to ensure that the software is unlikely to fail, manufacturers using such technology should ensure that warnings and disclaimers are adequate and that consumer expectation levels are set appropriately in marketing campaigns.