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Increasing safety in cars to deter carjacking


Every one of us has had that tingling feeling at the back of our necks while trying to reach to our car in an isolated area or in the basement of a shopping mall or in an expansive parking lot. The fear of someone lurking in the shadows or an anticipation of a person springing on to you from the dark makes one either hasten their pace or to reach out for the pepper spray can in their purses. We all suffer from this fear of the unknown and one can only be prepared and alert to prevent one from happening.

Wikipedia defines carjacking as an 'armed assault when the vehicle is occupied'. And this is more dangerous than a vehicle theft purely because the occupants are in danger of limb and life in carjacking cases whereas plain theft may only be a material loss. There is no knowing what may happen to a victim of a carjacking and hence one should take precautions at all times.

Hopefully, cars of the future will be more than helpful to deter such situations but technology is at hand already through connected cars. A connected car is one that is always connected to the internet and allows data transfer between the car's sensors and the cloud. While there are a number of use cases for connected car, I think we can add one more to that list by using it as a deterrent to carjacking. Simply put, a car can be triggered to take pictures of its immediate surroundings and relay it to a database in the cloud in real time.

Let me explain more on this. Say, you get into your car and as you are about to start the engine, you see someone approach your car door in a threatening way. You press the panic button on the steering wheel or on the door panel. This will trigger the cameras on the door sill to immediately start taking pictures with LED flash. Once taken, the pictures get automatically uploaded into a secure website for future reference, if required. An alarm will also get triggered about the incident (activation of panic button) which will result in a call back given to the car to check if everything is okay and if the incident was true or accidental.

Car OEMs can provide this as additional features for safety or it could be also provided as after-market options. The cloud storage would definitely be provided as a subscription based service as an additional revenue model within connected car program. Customers could also operate their account to view or delete old history and other details. It would also be a cool way to take Selfies using your car!

One would need the following (at the least) to make this happen:

·         Cameras with LED flash to be installed on the door sills. With smartphone technology development, the camera sizes have gone smaller and with High Definition features, the picture quality has become sharper. The LED 'flash-in-your-face' may also deter the weak hearted crooks from carrying out their planned assault and has its own benefits.

·         A panic button feature would be required on the steering wheel or on the door panel. This can be designed based on research for most accessible position in such situations. It could be in one or multiple locations.

·         Internet connectivity within the car. Car companies are already working on getting a lot of connected car features into modern cars today.

·         A secure database on the cloud to upload the pictures taken along with geo location and time. The upload should happen in real time so that there is no chance for anyone to prevent it from being stored. The pictures should also not be stored locally within the car as it would lead to damage of the car and harm to the victim. The event could also trigger storage of additional important data after the panic button is triggered viz.  engine condition (on/off) for next 30 min, driving pattern, driving speed post event, etc. Algorithms can be run in real time to check if car is moving in a direction other than usual routes or if the driving pattern is different from the car owner's for gaining additional insights into whether the car is driven by the owner or the carjacker.

·         A call back to the car can also be done to check on the condition of the owner. A pre-programmed code word could be defined to inform the police or security that the response is under duress. This will be helpful under certain situations as well.

I agree that this will not be able to prevent carjacking but if this facility was available, then it would only make carjacking a difficult career option for crooks. With more such anti-carjacking features, I hope one day it will be lot safer to drive a car. Obviously, autonomous or self-driving cars will definitely bring in more safety options but until then we will need interim solutions to deter carjackers of this world. Drive safe, be safe!


Well written piece...
Wonder when such wishes will be granted in India though...

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