Just what can we hack? Cars, drones, GPS? At TEDxAustin, a hacker explores

imageTodd Humphreys’s hacked drone

After news broke that two security researchers, Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller, hacked into the systems of moving cars with just a laptop, gaining the ability to jerk seatbelts, turn wheels, and kill breaks, the vulnerability of modern devices is hard to ignore.

At TEDxAustin last year, researcher Todd Humphreys spoke of such attacks, explaining how one could easily hack a litany of items with a simple “GPS spoofer.” A GPS spoofer is a device designed to mimic GPS signals that, Todd says in his talk, could create opportunities to run a ship off course, redirect an airplane, even manipulate the measure of time used by the New York Stock Exchange.

In fact, just last June, Todd’s research group at the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas successfully hijacked a civilian drone at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico during a test organized by the Department of Homeland Security, as reported by Wired.

"The key, said Todd in his TEDxAustin talk, "is that civil GPS signals are completely open. They have no encryption. They have no authentication. They’re wide open, vulnerable to a kind of spoofing attack…

As usual, what we see just beyond the horizon is full of promise and peril.”

Now Todd’s group is making waves for having hacked a ship’s navigation system with just “a laptop, a small antenna and an electronic GPS ‘spoofer’.”

With this hack, says Todd, a ship could be manipulated to go off course, allowing hackers to fool captains and crews into believing their ship is somewhere it isn’t, even when the compass reads the right heading.

“People need to know this kind of thing is possible,” he told Fox News.

Below, watch Todd’s talk in full and read more about his work on the TED Blog:

(Photo: Wired and Todd Humphreys)

Michael McDaniel & Jared Ficklin are designers at frog design, a firm in Austin, TX responsible for a multitude of products, from ovens to compost systems to apps to breast scanners. At this year’s TEDxAustin, the pair introduced their plan to re-invent urban mass transit through flying cars: high-flying gondolas running via cables stretched over cities — a little bit like ski lifts. 

How would this crazy idea work? From their talk:

What if I told you — in the whole area of mass transit, there is one industry that competes on the basis of how many people they can carry per hour without a schedule? Further, they do it moving only 1 to 6 people at a time.

I’m talking about the ski industry: the Zillertal ski area in Austria — they hold the record for lift capacity. They have a system of 174 chairs and gondolas that can move 298,000 people per hour. So if you ran that on a 24-hour cycle, that would be 74 million people a day,and if they weren’t skiing down, and you were carrying them down, that’d be 14 million people per day. That’s a lot of people. And to put those max capacity numbers into perspective, the New York City subway only has to carry 5.3 million people on a given weekday…

Now we’re not exactly saying chairlifts are the best solution for urban transit — there would be a lot of dropped iPhones — but if you were looking for inspiration on how to move a lot of people without a schedule, the ski industry is an excellent place to start. And one innovation you’re going to find there is called the high-speed detachable gondola.

Now these are essentially 4-6 person cars that cruise along at about 12 to 15 MPH attached to a cable supported by towers. For all practical purposes, they are flying cars. So they’re called “detachable” because as they come in through a station, they actually let go of the cable — release from the cable — and slow down to just below walking speed (about 2 MPH) as they glide through the station. Now this allows people to easily load and unload off the cars across a flat, level platform. Then the cars essentially accelerate back up and to line speed and reattach to the cable.

Now, the operation is continuous — it doesn’t stop — so you catch the first available car as it drifts through the station. Some of the other advantages of it being a detachable car is that, essentially, we can add and remove vehicles to the line in real time. Now this really eases maintenance, cleaning, and also helps us save energy by matching peak demand…All of this together forms a new form of mass transit for cities called urban cable.

The Wire
is our vision for a user-centered, practical mass transit system for cities like Austin.
..The Wire can cover the exact same routes as [urban light rail], but it can go places surface rail simply can’t go.

…Imagine flying into Austin, and catching The Wire at the airport. The stop could be located right on top of the attached parking garage, so you would simply walk and roll your luggage right on the first available car and fly out. There’s not waiting and no schedules because it’s constantly in motion…there’s no stoplights in the air; these things run constantly…The ability to put [stations] in the air means they can sit on top of parking garages or they could be over the top of intersections…You could have one that had a rooftop pocket park, or one integrated with retail.

With all these possibilities, it creates new opportunities for public / private partnerships. You could even envision a stop integrated into the lower floors of an existing high-rise building. This means more ways to share costs. It encourages smart growth. It allows us to build community around commuting. 

For more information on urban cable and The Wire, watch Michael and Jared’s entire talk, "A mass transport system in the sky" from TEDxAustin 2013.

Plant walls, bento boxes, innovations, oh my!: TEDxAustin 2013

Above, scenes from TEDxAustin’s 2013 event, which took place February 9 at Austin’s new Circuit of the Americas — the Formula One racetrack right outside the Texas capital.

Attendees were treated to an all-day affair of ideas worth spreading, along with breaks designed to delight the senses — full of activities, art exhibitions, demonstrations, and even a live painting project.

Lunch was especially memorable — served in compostable bamboo bento boxes conceived by chef and TEDx speaker Elizabeth Andoh, master of the Japanese cooking style washoku.

Bottom photo via Jeff Kramer: http://www.jeffkramer.com/