back to article Hey car thief! Gonna shut you down

General Motors is prepping a carjack buster that gradually slows stolen cars to a halt by turning down engine power. The technology, dubbed Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, can allow General Motors' OnStar advisors, working with law enforcement officers, to send a signal to a stolen vehicle that reduces engine power. When police reach …

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If only

Great idea in principle, right up until the moment car thieves work out how to jam the signal!

Or OnStar gets hacked and the slowdown command becomes the accelerate command. For now, I don't want anyone other than the driver of the vehicle to be able to make any changes to the vehicles direction or velocity.

"GM is promoting the service as a way to cut the 300 deaths arising every year from police car chases in the US". Alternatively of course, you could not chase them!

I bet the real thinking behind this, is that when enough cars have the technology built into them, they could be prevented from speeding (something I would welcome in built-up areas). However, this effort will fall flat on it's face when it comes to stopping car thieves.

Terrorists/pranksters could have a field day broadcasting the slowdown/accelerate command to a motorway full of traffic :(

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Stupid

This has to be the most stupid and dangerous idea anyone in the motor industry ever came up with.

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Potential licencees of the technology...

Skoda may be interested in licencing the tech but they found it was impossible to lower the power of their engines any further. Also, the in-car warning was going to humiliate the would-be theives by laughing at them for stealing such a heap in the first place.

And where is the "Evil robots auto-piloting us all of the edge of a cliff" angle on this!

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Coat

Re: Leonard of Quirm

More like Bloody Stupid Johnson.

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Can't wait

Really can't wait for some cracker to figure out how to fake the signal to the car. Setup a transmission box near a motorway and you'll be able to count exactly how many cars have the system - they'll be the ones all stopped in the middle of the road.

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Not so fast...

What nefarious things with GMAC do with this new way of beating deadbeat plebs.

They already can turn on the mike in OnStar equipped vehicles and listen in and have been known to lock out and disable the engine on hose unfortunates who fail to pay what GMAC is due making their cars ripe for the repo man.

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Re: Stupid

Will -

Why?

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Stopping speeding

A great idea in principle, except that:

a) if everybody obeyed the speed limit, there would probably be little if any reduction in accidents -- because the people who cause most of the accidents would simply drive even more carelessly than they presently do.

b) if the police didn't have to deal with speeding motorists, they would have to spend their time dealing with more serious crimes -- and that's to hard or too dangerous or too much paperwork -- not to mention the speeding fines that they lose.

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@ Will Godfrey

> This has to be the most stupid and dangerous idea anyone in the motor industry ever came up with.

Well, there's giving an American a license and engine governors, uh, following close behind...

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Joke

Oh no!

Oh no , I'm sure the smarter car thieves given access to the both the car fuse box to pull the main power supply fuses to OnStar and the bidirectional OBD2 port can bypass any limitations they throw at them.

As with all things car thieves are at least two generations ahead of the car makers in the security race and can by pass most cheap mass produced security devices because they are defective by the very nature called cheap !

Besides who wants a buy a self bugging car that any government agency can turn it into on a whim and a prayer anyway !

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It's an old hat...

John, your comment "but the ability to force stolen motors to a halt is something of an innovation" is misleading... Matrix, a vehicle tracking company in South Africa, has had such technology since at least 1999. I should know... I forgot to tell them and had my car disabled in that manner - It was very embarrassing to say the least.

Just because they don't advertise it (commercial advantage and all that) or because it doesn't come from a Euro or US manufacturer does not mean that it does not exist already.

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Anonymous Coward

Where do you want it sent

The vast majority of car thefts around here they take the wheels, the seats, the battery, any consumer electronics if they are real pro's the break rotors and hub assembly and the motor and leave the carcass to be found the next day. Is Onstar going to help against this they went this way because of the chipped key in Fords that disables the engine if it isn't the right one (never lose your keys).

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Gates Horns

Waste of money

This sounds like some marketing gimmick, that can be easly disabled with a piece of tin foil.

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Anonymous Coward

@heystoopid

> main power supply fuses to OnStar and the bidirectional OBD2 port

All well and good if it was a third party addon, but this is being included *by GM*. It doesn't need to use OBD because it can be built into the ECU, it doesn't need a separate fuse, it can take power from the same circuit as the rest of the engine control system.

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Jobs Horns

Nice Idea

Nice idea, already implemented by some third party alarm/immobiliser manufacturers.

One problem from GM's point of view is that every car with Onstar has an Antenna on the outside of the vehicle. Whether or not the system is built into the ECU, it must tx/rx to the outside world.

2 minute job to rip the antenna off and short out the cable. Communications gone!

Stop me now copper!!!!!!

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Anonymous Coward

@b166er

> ... right up until the moment car thieves work out how to jam the signal!

a-HA! Take that, Capitalist Pigs! Foiled yet again by Her Majesty's Royal Peanut Gallery! I hope the car-jackers aren't reading El Reg today.. they might catch on to the idea of mounting their lasers on their 747s too.

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Coat

Such technology already exists

At least over here in Malaysia.

They called it "Captor" and "The Posse".

The system allows the car owner to check on the location of their car as well as order a shutdown of the vehicle if it's stolen. Disabling the system is tough since it's CPU is well hidden and has a built-in backup battery, by the time you're done finding it the cops would have already surrounded you.

Of course, the downside is that the service costs about a hundred dollars in local currency annually. Plus, since tracking and disabling is satellite based, going into a tunnel or an underground car park effectively nullifies the tracking. .

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Anonymous Coward

@heystoopid

Innapropriate use of emoticons is a crime. And if it isn't, it should be I spent all of a minute looking for the joke.

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All of what you said

...and wouldn't dozens of local US TV stations simply go out of business once there were no more hour-long car chases to broadcast?

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Anonymous Coward

Single car

One assumes that the signal will be specific to each car via a unique identifier (and one assumes a level of encryption) so I can't see how you could either suddenly stop a large number of cars or, for that matter, stop a single car unless you know the unique identifier for that car?

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Tim

Isn't this dangerous

Who would drive through an urban neighbourhood at night in a car with this fitted? Once it's been cracked , if it hasn't already, it will be like a car delivery service for thieves and worse types.

I bet they don't even try to sell it in Jo'burg either.

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"Stolen car impossible to start"

"Better still, of course would be technology that made a stolen car impossible to start."

Err, yes, it's called an immobiliser. That's why car thieves nick your keys these days. Bit difficult to differentiate stolen car with keys and not-stolen car with keys. Fingerprint recognition in cars? Never going to happen - too inconvenient.

Interesting thing that's happened recently though - with rise of keyless entry (fancy RFID in your keyfob, effectively), if you get carjacked they wouldn't actually get the keys anyway (unless thief noticed, of course). Car may keep going, but if engine stops, it couldn't be restarted again as "key" isn't actually in the car anymore...

I remember seeing something similar in a car TV program years ago - evolution of tracker type system, but operator could actually talk to the thief, and even lock them in the car after stopping it. Which I thought was quite cool :)

Andrew

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Anonymous Coward

Improvements

Of course, what they really need as well: a way to remotely lock the bastards in, and a noxious gas released inside the now locked car. That'll learn em.

@Bad Beaver: ever heard of repeats? That's about all that they show anyway!

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old hat really...

had this technology fitted to my car for the last 5 years with no problems... Unit I have is made by Maxtor and marketed under the TrakM8 brand name... the "switch the engine off" bit I made myself after a mate got car-jacked...

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Anonymous Coward

Hey ex-girlfriend! Gonna shut you down

Not that the police or service provider's employees could ever be corrupt, oh no.

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Nothing new

There was a project in one of the old electronics mags (1980's)(Practical Wirelss, IIRC) that did a similar thing. It was based on a hidden switch instead of wireless, but worked in a similar way.

If you didn't deactivate the circuit, it would start a timer. After a couple of minutes it would start interrupting the ignition circuit, causing the car to misfire. The idea was that it would appear like an ignition fault instead of a security device, causing the perp to abandon it.

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Rob

@Bad Beaver

"and wouldn't dozens of local US TV stations simply go out of business once there were no more hour-long car chases to broadcast?"

And in what way is that a bad thing?

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Anonymous Coward

@Craig

"Skoda may be interested in licencing the tech but they found it was impossible to lower the power of their engines any further."

Presumably you'll be applying that same twisted logic to VW, Audi and Seat, too?

You know as much about cars as my sister.

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re: "Stolen car impossible to start"

"Better still, of course would be technology that made a stolen car impossible to start."

"Err, yes, it's called an immobiliser. That's why car thieves nick your keys these days. Bit difficult to differentiate stolen car with keys and not-stolen car with keys. Fingerprint recognition in cars? Never going to happen - too inconvenient."

Immobiliser technology has gone backwards over the years!

I had a 1996 Peugeot 406, which as well as having a chip built into the key, it had a factory fitted keypad on which you had to enter a user defined code before the car would start. So there was no way you were driving off with the car unless you had the keys AND knew the code.

When I bought the newer 1999 model Peugeot 406, they had removed the keypad, according to the dealer, because too many customers found it to be an inconvenience.

Whats wrong with just having a simple 0-9 keypad to enter a code on to start the car? As far as I am aware, no one offers this as standard anymore.

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Anonymous Coward

Or - just for novelty

Maybe the police could actually respond in person in under 7 hours when you report a car crime (or any other crime).

And if we're really determined to do something about crime hows about we lock the little scrotes up for more than a few weeks when they've comitted a crime.

And to be REALLY determined - make the place they are locked up unpleasant.

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Anonymous Coward

I hope it works on a global basis...

... because by the time the police even get around to getting back to you, the car will be in a different country.

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Anonymous Coward

Immobilisers

Of course nowadays one wouldn't even have to have a keypad as a second authentication device (meaning that people wouldn't have to remember their code, as its such a strain, poor dears - and one has to bear in mind that increasing numbers of the adults of tomorrow will be innumerate).

A plausible alternative could be something like a card in your wallet which works like Oyster or these new so-called 'cashless' cards that you just tap on a reader in the central column. Or, something in your phone since we are apparently scant moments away from wearable phones that do anything we could possibly think of. Then they have to nick your wallet/phone as well :)

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Rob

Big brotha 0WNz your car

This is about being able to lock down whole tranches of waddling Yanks who can't escape from a transpecied H5N1 outbreak without their mobile sofas.

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Re: ""Stolen car impossible to start" "

Andrew Bolton:

"I remember seeing something similar in a car TV program years ago - evolution of tracker type system, but operator could actually talk to the thief, and even lock them in the car after stopping it. Which I thought was quite cool :)"

I also remember a tv program recently that tricked crims into doing crimes. There was a car left for a couple of thieves to nick, but it had been modified to lock the doors and then spray cream all over the criminals. All the fun was captured on camera!Can't wait for this to be an optional extra!

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Electric Shocks

It would be really neat if the battery on the stolen car discarged spontaneously right up the would-be thieves botty via a spring-action suppositrode hidden under the drivers seat.

Even if the thief should be wearing rubber knickers (either for medical reasons or because they like the feel), the car would still have a flat battery.

No, it isn't safe, but other than the smell of charred meat which would permeate the car forever I think the fun value more than outweighs any potential problems connected to the potential combustion of the car thief. And some people might like their cars to smell of roast dinners - it makes them feel like it's a Sunday morning all week long.

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Thor's enema

"It would be really neat if the battery on the stolen car discarged spontaneously right up the would-be thieves botty via a spring-action suppositrode hidden under the drivers seat."

Yes, it would be fun to watch, but not so much fun if it went off by accident. Just how much do you trust embedded software?

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Really, now.

If this were such a bad idea, and the theives such brain trusts as to readily disable the systems, then how is it that they're *failing* to disable the OnStar system already? Many hundreds of vehicles are recovered each month via the offices of OnStar right now, so we can pretty safely conclude that there are a very large number of idiot theives out there who have no bloodly clue about OnStar, nor how it might work against them. Once they've been hit with a slowdown command, it's a bit late to start learning.

It's not going to cost extra money, so there's no argument against that, there, either.

Hacking the signal to monkey with traffic? Yeah, I suppose that's possible. Remotely. But I'm not going to lose any sleep over that possibility. The people with the skills to do that generally have far better things to do with their time, things that actually earn them money (legitimately or otherwise).

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Software?

I think you mean "embedded hardware" don't you, mate. ;-)

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This is a really bad idea

Tis is one of those ideas where the longer you think about it, the worse it looks.

Any kind of hardware device intended to prevent speeding is a bad idea. There are situations where the *only* safe thing to do is temporarily to break the speed limit -- for instance, what if something is coming at you from behind and the opposite lane is unavailable? Are we just supposed to crash like good little martyrs, safe in the knowledge that someone else was at fault?

And the ability remotely to stop a vehicle is also worrying. If (a tiny subset of) the Good Guys can use it, then we have to assume that the Bad Guys can use it too.

What will happen -- I can predict this quite confidently -- is that someone absolutely without malicious intention will discover how to turn off their own car. It may not have happened yet; but then again, the technology simply isn't common enough or cheap enough. More cars which can be disabled remotely means more opportunities to try remotely to disable a car.

At first, of course, it'll only be used as a humorous party trick. Then, the same discovery will be made independently somewhere else (cf. the invention of the incandescent light bulb). But a trick is no good without an audience, and it will be shown off. At some point, the technique will reach the criminal fraternity. Not the "nice" criminal fraternity who just do vaguely illegal things like grow a bit of weed, chase off a bunch of hunters, blow stuff up in out-of-the-way places or not pay for some of their toys; but the "nasty" criminals who do the really illegal stuff like people-smuggling, gun-running and terrorism and aren't afraid to maim and kill to get what they want.

Some technically-bright but socially-dim kid will get out of their depth with a criminal gang and end up with an ultimatum: build a remote car-stopper for them, or else. The gadget will be cloned in third-world sweatshops {if not first-world sweatshops} before the day is out, and used for crime. The only solution in the end will be to scrap the remote disabling ability altogether.

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Anonymous Coward

Title

I wonder how long it will take for the first thief to crack this and carry on business as usual.

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Paris Hilton

Slowdown isn't quite right, you can quit worrying about speed enforcement

CNN interviewed one of the GM fellows in charge of this a day or two ago, and his explanation of the mechanism involved clearly rules out any speed enforcement worries - GM sends the signal and the fuel pump shuts down. Engine stall occurs shortly thereafter.

Of course, this has it's own set of possibly disastrous consequences - I shudder to think of what will happen when some nit speed-driving a 1/2 ton pickup with Onstar gets nicked by the cops and the engine shuts down. Let's see - 80MPH, no power steering, no power brakes, and the driver's already full of adrenaline ... I certainly hope I'm not on the same roadway as that disaster-in-the-making.

I wonder if they'll use it for catching drunk celebutants too?

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Don't stop the fuel pump

I don't imagine GM means to actually shut off the fuel supply bang-full stop. There's safety issues as CBarn notes, and some fuel injection systems would be trashed running dry like that.

Many (most?) vehicles have "throttle by wire" nowadays, so a progressive limiting of the throttle plate opening would do the job gradually.

Failing throttle-by-wire, some manipulation of fuel injector pulse width or ignition timing would bring you to a crawl safely.

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