Dr. Lance Eliot, AI Insider
[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/]
Cars parts theft is big business.
There are tons of car parts thefts annually in the United States alone (literally, tons worth!).
Some car parts are stolen to glean the elements within them.
Some car parts are being taken to then supply the huge market for used car parts. Perhaps nearly 1 million car parts and car thefts are undertaken each year, though it is hard to know how many happen since the crime is not always consistently reported. If you are interested in some fascinating statistics about stolen car parts and stolen cars, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) provides online stats that are insightful on the matter.
In the case of stealing a car part and attempting to resell it, an entire black-market supports such efforts. When you go into a car repair shop to get your car fixed, and they offer to put into your car a used part, it could very well be a stolen part that they use. The car repair shop is not necessarily in on the thievery. They might be buying the used parts from seemingly reputable sources. It turns out that the supply chain of car parts is quite muddled and there is a kind of ease with which stolen car parts can appear to be legitimate used parts.
The motivation for stealing car parts is rather apparent when you think about it.
Car parts are becoming increasingly expensive and therefore the profit to be made by selling a stolen car part is quite handsome.
If car parts were dirt cheap, it would be difficult to make much money off stealing them. People that own cars are continually in need of getting replacement car parts, due to the wear-and-tear of an existing car part or sometimes due to the car part getting wrecked by a car accident.
In any case, the car parts thieves are choosy about which cars they steal from and which car parts they try to steal.
Cars that are well-sold and the most popular brands of cars tend to be the right choice for stealing car parts from, since there is a much larger market potential of the need for used parts. Another angle too is cars that tend to be involved in car accidents, which then are in need of replacement car parts.
It’s a demand and supply phenomenon.
Parts being stolen are dictated generally by the demand exhibited via car repair shops, and in combination with the used parts marketplace and the underground marketplace.
The car part needs to have sufficient profit potential, thus the more expensive it is, the more attractive as a target to steal.
The car part needs to be relatively easy to steal.
If it takes too long to steal it, or if the chances of getting caught are high, thieves are not going to take the risk as readily.
The car part needs to be small enough that a thief can readily cart it away and then transport it to whatever locale might be needed to dispense with it. If the car part is extremely heavy or bulky, it makes the stealing of it much harder and along with complicating a fast getaway with the car part.
The car part needs to be removable without excessive effort.
If the thief needs a multitude of tools to try to extract the part, or if the part is welded into place, these are barriers to stealing it. Likewise, if there is a car alarm system that the car part will potentially set off when stealing the car part, that’s a no-no kind of car part to try to take.
People Dumbly Aid Thieves
The key is often one of the fobs that has the super-duper security capabilities, which automakers spent many millions of dollars perfecting. Turns out that last year, it is estimated that around 60% of all stolen cars in the United States were taken by the thief simply using the keys left inside the car.
For those of us that are technologists, it highlights how humans can undermine the best of technology by how they behave.
In spite of the handshake security capabilities that took years to perfect and embody in a key fob, it turns out that a lot of people merely leave the fob sitting inside the car. A car thief does not need any special skills to steal such a car.
This is reminiscent of the “hacking” of people’s online accounts or their PC’s or their IoT devices.
Many people use a password that is easily guessed. I’m sure you are as frustrated as me that many of the so-called hackings of people’s accounts are not due to any shrewd computer hacker, but instead by the simplistic and mindless act of trying obvious passwords.
Unbelievably, at times the value of the parts exceed the value of the car itself.
In other words, the amount of money you can make by selling the stolen parts is going to be more than if you tried to sell the entire car. In that case, when you toss into the equation the troubles and risks involved in selling an intact stolen car, the notion of taking the car to a chop shop makes a lot of sense. Divide up the car and sell the parts, then find a place to discard or bury or destroy whatever might be leftover.
AI Autonomous Cars And Parts Theft
What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?
At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars.
One question that I often get asked at industry conferences involves whether AI self-driving cars will be subject to the stolen car parts marketplace.
I believe so.
Allow me to elaborate.
First, let’s all agree that an AI self-driving car is still a car.
This might seem obvious, but I assure you that a lot of people seem to think that when you add the AI aspects to a car that the car somehow transforms into a magical vehicle. It’s a car.
I mention this so that it is perhaps apparent that the same aspects of car parts being stolen are going to apply to the conventional parts of a self-driving car. If there are AI self-driving cars that have catalytic converters, and if the price of palladium remains high, you can reasonably assume that car thieves might want to steal the catalytic converter from your AI self-driving car.
So, overall, yes, AI self-driving cars face the same dangers of car parts thievery as might be the case for conventional cars.
There are some important caveats to consider.
Why Autonomous Car Parts Theft Is Special
I anticipate the volume of AI self-driving cars will be a gradual build-up of adoption, and we’ll continue to have conventional cars during that same time period.
This means that there might not be many AI self-driving cars on the roadway.
Recall that an important aspect of being a targeted car for stolen parts is that the car itself is popular.
The more cars of a particular brand in the marketplace, the more the number of used car parts that are needed.
In the case of AI self-driving cars, the number of AI self-driving cars might be so low for the initial adoption period that it is not as worthwhile to steal a car part from an AI self-driving car as it is to steal from a conventional car that has greater popularity. The thieves tend to react based on marketplace demand. If there aren’t many AI self-driving cars out and about, there’s little incentive to steal parts from those cars.
In a similar form of logic, if the AI self-driving cars are not as readily around, they are a harder target to find and steal from.
The nice thing about popular cars, from a car parts thievery perspective, would be that you can find those popular cars just about anywhere, parked along the street, parked in mall parking lots, and so on.
The relatively rarity of AI self-driving cars at the start, before there is a gradual shift toward AI self-driving cars and away from conventional cars, means that finding an AI self-driving car to steal parts from will be an arduous task. I’m not saying that it becomes impossible, and I am sure that if the thieves think it worthwhile, they could hunt down the locations of AI self-driving cars.
Another factor to consider about AI self-driving cars will be their likely use on a somewhat non-stop basis.
The notion is that an AI self-driving car is more likely to be used in a ride sharing service and therefore will be used potentially around-the-clock. If you don’t need to hire a human driver, you can keep the AI driving the car all the time. The more time the self-driving car is underway, and assuming you can fill it with paying passengers, the more money you make from owning an AI self-driving car.
You might be wondering how many of the existing being-tested varying-levels of AI self-driving cars are having their car parts stolen?
None that I know of.
Does that undermine the notion that there will be car parts stolen from AI self-driving cars?
No, it does not undermine the argument.
Being Tested Autonomous Cars Are Well-Protected
As already stated, when the number of cars of a particular brand or model are low, there is little interest in trying to steal their car parts. That’s certainly the case right now with the low number of AI self-driving cars of one kind or another being trial run on roadways.
An even greater factor right now is that the AI self-driving cars that are being trial run have a quite devoted crew that keeps those AI self-driving cars in tiptop working order. Unlike a conventional car, these special testing AI self-driving cars are handled delicately and devotedly by assigned car mechanics and engineers.
These AI self-driving cars are kept parked in secure locations, and they are maintained to a meticulous threshold. The auto makers and tech firms do not want their existing tryouts of AI self-driving cars to be undermined due to parts that fail or wear out. These are spoiled cars, being provided with by-hand daily care.
A car parts thief is unlikely to find any of these AI self-driving cars, and if they did, it would be in a secure location that has a crew doting to the self-driving car when it is parked.
When an AI self-driving car is in-motion, the camera is functioning to undertake image and video stream captures and analyze the roadway around the AI self-driving car, along with the other sensors doing the same, such as the radar, the ultrasonic, the LIDAR, etc. Any car parts thief would likely get caught on camera, making their theft someone stupid, when attempting to steal from an underway AI self-driving car, though I suppose they could try to wear a mask and disguise themselves.
I’ve already pointed out that since the AI self-driving car will be in-motion most of the time, a masked thief still has little chance of stealing any of the car parts. Admittedly, once the AI self-driving car is parked and motionless, the sensors are often no longer being powered and used, which means that you could be possibly undetected when stealing parts from the car. This will be something important to consider once AI self-driving cars become prevalent.
It is anticipated that once there are a lot of AI self-driving cars in the marketplace, it might not be the case that they will all be cruising around all the time. It is suggested that there might be special areas that the AI self-driving cars go to wait for being summoned. These staging areas would resemble parking lots. The idea is that rather than an AI self-driving car driving around endlessly, which might not be very efficient, they would sit in temporary staging areas and await a request to be used.
I mention this because few of the AI self-driving car pundits have realized that we might reach a kind of saturation point of AI self-driving cars prevalence. It is admittedly a long way off in the future.
Overall, the notion is that if there is a saturation level in a given locale, it might not be prudent to have an AI self-driving car driving around and around, waiting to be put to use. The endless driving is going to cause wear-and-tear on the self-driving car, plus it will be using up whatever fuel is used by the AI self-driving car.
As such, we might reach a point where it makes sense to have an oversupply of AI self-driving cars be staged in a temporary area until summoned.
Where Thieves Will Go
I suppose the staging area could be a place to try to steal car parts from those waiting AI self-driving cars.
I’ll guess that by the time we have such a prevalence of AI self-driving cars, those staging areas would be well-protected and well-monitored. Seems less likely an easy target for car parts thievery.
One aspect that will potentially make AI self-driving cars an attractive target would be the specialized components included onto the self-driving car for the AI driving purposes.
An AI self-driving car has lots of superb cameras, it has numerous radar devices, it might have LIDAR, it will have ultrasonic devices, and so on. This is exciting, especially as a goldmine for car parts theft. I can imagine the car thieves already salivating at this.
These sensory devices are an ideal target for car parts theft. They tend to be expensive, which I had mentioned earlier that the value of a car part is a crucial attraction for car parts thievery. There are many of them on each AI self-driving car, making the car target-rich. They tend to be small, meaning that you can readily steal and transport them.
The question is whether these sensors can be readily removed from an AI self-driving car or not.
Some are suggesting that we’ll have add-on kits that can convert a conventional car into becoming an AI self-driving car. If that’s the case, this is a potential gift from heaven for the car parts thieves.
Easy on, easy off.
It’s the easy off aspect that makes the car thieves happy.
This would also make the selling of the stolen car parts easier too.
I’ve already stated in my writings and presentations that I doubt the add-on approach is going to be viable for AI self-driving cars. By this claim, I am suggesting that there won’t be a mass consumer add-on market. There could though be a car dealer marketplace of doing this after-market effort, though I doubt that will be likely either.
Does the potential lack of an AI self-driving car parts add-on market imply that the sensors on an AI self-driving car will necessarily be difficult to remove?
No, not necessarily.
For an auto maker trying to maintain AI self-driving cars, they’ve got to be considering that the life of the sensors is limited, and they will break down. When the sensors need to be replaced, if they are somehow hidden and embedded within the body of the self-driving car, it will make it harder and costlier to have those sensors replaced.
I realize that the auto makers might not care about this facet and are so focused on just producing a viable AI self-driving car that they don’t care right now about the maintenance side of things. Plus, if you like conspiracy theories, you might say that it is perhaps better for the automaker to make it arduous and costly to replace the sensors, thus guaranteeing a lucrative maintenance fee after selling the AI self-driving car.
In any case, it isn’t yet clear whether it will be made easy or hard to remove the sensors from an AI self-driving car. This might differ by car maker and car model.
Anti-Theft Tech Could Help Reduce Thefts
One additional aspect to keep in mind will be advances in anti-theft technologies.
It could be that once we have any prevalence of AI self-driving cars that there will be new advances in car anti-theft systems and those devices will be included into AI self-driving cars.
If so, it might make stealing car parts a near impossibility.
Imagine a scenario in which a thief attempts to carry out a car parts theft on an AI self-driving car.
The AI might detect the effort. It could then honk the horn or take some other effort to bring attention to the car. It might also use it’s Over The Air (OTA) capabilities, usually used for pushing updates and patches into the AI system remotely via the cloud, and contact the authorities electronically to report a car parts robbery in progress.
Another futuristic possibility is the use of the V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications that will be included into AI self-driving cars.
Normally, the V2V will be used for an AI self-driving car to share roadway info with another nearby AI self-driving car. Perhaps an AI self-driving car has detected debris in the road. It might relay this finding to other nearby AI self-driving cars. They can then each try to avoid hitting the debris, being able to proactively anticipate the debris due to the V2V warning provided.
Suppose one AI self-driving car notices that a thief is trying to steal the parts from another AI self-driving car. The observing AI self-driving car might try to honk its horn or make a scene, or it might via OTA contact the authorities, or it might try to wake-up the AI self-driving car that is the victim, doing so via sending a V2V urgent message. Assuming that the AI self-driving car was “asleep” and parked, the V2V message could awaken it, and then the “victim” self-driving could sound an alert or possibly even try to drive away.
Will the sensors and other AI physical components be easy to steal or hard to steal?
They are going to be attractive due to their expensive cost and small size. Auto makers and tech firms are not likely considering the matter right now of whether those parts are able to be stolen or not. Instead, right now it’s mainly about getting them to work and produce a true AI self-driving car.
The marketplace for those devices will be slim until there is a prevalence of AI self-driving cars.
Therefore, this is a low-chance risk for now.
We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds.
I can just imagine in the future coming out to my vaunted AI self-driving car, which I would proudly opt to park in my driveway, doing so as a showcase for the rest of the neighborhood, and suddenly realizing that it has been stripped of its parts.
Many of the conventional car parts might be taken, along with the AI specialized car parts.
Darn it, struck by car thieves a second time in my life.
Will it never end?
I’d hope that helicopters were dispatched immediately, along with police drones, and squad cars, all searching for my stolen AI self-driving car parts.
Get those dastardly heathens!
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More info about AI self-driving cars, see: www.ai-selfdriving-cars.guru
To follow Lance Eliot on Twitter: https://twitter.com/@LanceEliot
For his Forbes.com blog, see: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/
For his AI Trends blog, see: www.aitrends.com/ai-insider/
For his Medium blog, see: https://firstname.lastname@example.org
For Dr. Eliot’s books, see: https://www.amazon.com/author/lanceeliot
Copyright © 2019 Dr. Lance B. Eliot