Can We Develop An Open-Source Car?

Every evening, when I go for a walk, I pass by at least two Tesla vehicles, and a third if a particular someone is attending tennis lessons. When I’m not paying close enough attention, I’ll be caught off guard by a flash of light. The car has taken a photo of me for walking just a little too closely.

The same thing at happens regularly at Whole Foods and Costco. I have to make a concerted effort to stay at least three feet away from the sleek cars, which be tricky when they are parked alongside the sidewalk or parked right next to my car in a lot.

I have heard great things about Tesla, including the smooth drive and low-cost of maintenance after the initial sticker shock. While I don’t have confidence that the system is yet in it’s final form, I like that the company is pushing the envelope of what is possible. The technology is phenomenal.

A relative recently retired after 15 years working as an engineer for Tesla, and he is passionately enthusiastic about the cars he develops. I suspect the workplace is an environment that encourages new ideas and novel approaches, and I believe that is a great things to help propel any company into the future.

However, I don’t like having my picture taken by strangers and actively rush out of the backdrop of others’ photos. Having my photo taken by a machine with movement detectors is next-level creepy. The mere existence of Sentry Mode is enough to raise privacy concerns. The cameras record anything that happens once the proximity alert is triggered, and most of these recording are not criminal or illegal.

The vehicles generate a lot of footage, and it is primarily bystanders or other vehicles getting too close. It’s just me or you trying to load up kids and groceries, or trying to take a leisurely walk that happens to pass through a parking lot. How many random images of me are stored on Tesla’s servers or, worse, on that of the vehicle owner?

There is also the thought of car videos becoming evidence and insurance liability once in the hands of governments, vehicle-related companies, the parents of teenage drivers, or even the media.

Concern could eventually evolve into control, and constant recordings will ensure the driver is under surveillance. On top of that, Tesla has another function, Dash Cam, which constantly records the road while traveling. Similar to Sentry Mode, it captures a lot of footage, including both good and bad driving. Several incidents of poor driving have been captured on video and released publicly, further humiliating the driver.

The constant recording undermines personal privacy. Furthermore, it’s frightening that all it takes to modify the function and inner workings of cameras is a simple software update from Tesla.

Recently, I have been reading a fair amount on the intersection of design and technology with ethics and civics. As we rapidly move into the future, we are seeing the advent of life-changing developments in all areas of life. The rapid advancement of the products makes it challenging for policy to keep up, as in the case of artificial intelligence, genetic modification, infrastructural cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and false content such as deepfake videos. There is so much promise for the future, and yet equal opportunity for deception, manipulation, and fraud.

After a recent incident in which a sleek back Tesla SUV flashed as I passed, I began to consider the feasibility of an open-source vehicle. I would love to see a vehicle that embodies sleekness, safety ratings, and low-maintenance costs of a great car, without the unnecessary and often over-the-top technological additions.

In the coming decade, I would love to see the advent of more ethical tech and open-source options, both in the automotive industry and across the full scope of human activity. I want access to the latest and greatest technologies, paired with the ability to easily opt-in or modify the code to meet my personal needs.

My perfect car would offer the ability turn on the cameras in a bad neighborhood or if my teenage kid is borrowing the vehicle, and turn them off pretty much any other time. I can save the footage to a personal USB drive, rather than sending it to the manufacturer’s servers. No one would be sent my geolocation data or have the ability to remotely shut off my vehicle. It would be safe, functional and a pleasure to drive–and nothing more.

I understand there are endless regulations and costs around vehicle companies. It would inevitably be an uphill battle, but I would love to see the end results. And I would pay damn good money for that product.

8 thoughts on “Can We Develop An Open-Source Car?

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    1. That’s a great question! I think the primary thing would be to remove or simplify the electronic components. While modern vehicles have better safety features, all of the fancy bells and whistles mean there are far more breakable and expensive-to-repair parts.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I agree that it does invade our privacy. The Wall Street Journal said today that people who work for the Chinese government have been banned for using them. They see them as a possible security threat. Interesting.

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    1. Wow, I had not heard that, but it’s not shocking. If I were part of a government or other large entity working with any level of secure information, I would probably be following these types of advancement closely and put similar guidelines into place.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think that’s a great idea. I do like the idea of a car’s alarms going off if something is trying to enter without a key. I’m even okay with the car taking photographs, but I would much rather they be retained locally by the car owner than stored on the manufacturer’s server indefinitely (as is current practice)

      Liked by 2 people

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