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🛰 John Deere & Hacked Firmware, Hacked Dishwashers, EV variability, Flat CO2 Emissions – IOP Observatory #19

March 28 · Issue #19 · View online
The VUCA Observatory
glad you could make it.
In this week’s issue: John Deere and the DMCA, hacked dishwashers, EV variability, Flat CO2-emissions
It’s a bit of a frenzied week, this one, but bear with me, we’re going to get to the bottom of it.
I’m going to be in San Francisco in late April (23-27th), and have some spare time on my hands. Naturally I’d love to catch up with folks doing interesting work in IoT/Connected Mobility/Energy. If that’s you, or you know of someone whom I should meet, give me a shout!
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So where do we start? With the John Deere story? Farmers, Firmware hacked in the Ukraine, the smell of monopoly power – it’s got all the necessary ingredients for righteous indignation, doesn’t it?At the heart of the story is, of course, software. After the EFF successfully lobbied the Librarian of Congress for a temporary exemption of section 1201 of the DMCA, which in essence lifts the criminal penalty on breaking DRM/encryption of the software of land-based vehicles, John Deere started requiring customers to sign a license agreement, which prohibits tinkering with the software. Now, as always, there’s a grey market in patched software, and some farmers take advantage of that. This comes at a critical time where lobbying in several states for so-called Right-to-Repair legislation is ongoing. John Deere is quiet on the topic, but it’s reasonable to assume that they didn’t put those license requirements up just to spite farmers, but to protect their business model.
Which leads us to the interesting point of what ownership and licenses entail in this new era. It’s obvious that currently, license agreements mostly serve to restrict post-sale use of goods, without necessarily putting a similar burden on sellers or manufacturers, which naturally makes people wary.
As the story of the vulnerable commercial dish washer from Miele shows, manufacturers aren’t usually in a position to give support that would be somewhat equitable to the restrictions they want to put in place for the use of their goods. Remember, most software is provided on an AS IS basis, with no liability in place for the manufacturer. And most firms don’t even know how to deal with security breaches, for instance. Often, it’s established firms who don’t follow standard practices in the industry world, such as code signing, which would have easily defeated that malware, targeted at Siemens PLCs, that fronted as firmware update.
While the irresistible temptation for companies to become platforms bears out, we’ll urgently have to figure out what obligations should come with this. Sales legislation as it developed over centuries looked at reconciling competing interests between seller and buyer. We do not that for licenses, and it would be better for everyone involved if we did.
While the US is currently in the process of undoing 8 years of climate policy, the numbers from the International Energy Agency are actually rather encouraging. Carbon emissions remain flat for the third year running, amidst global economic growth of around 3% p.a.
That means that the long elusive goal of uncoupling economic growth from growth of greenhouse gas emissions seems to have occurred, in no small part due to the massive expansion of renewables. It should be noted, however, that the fact of CO2-emissions remaining flat shouldn’t be overly celebrated. They still remain at an unprecedentedly high, and thus dangerous, level, and we’re still far off from the reductions we need to achieve to remain within 2ºC of warming, the goal of the Paris Agreement.
That such a reduction can only be achieved in an orchestrated manner should be obvious, given the interdependent nature of the world we live in. Germany’s currently discovering that, for it’s energy system to support more renewables, the Energiewende needs to expand beyond its own borders. That will be expensive, and fraught with political conflict, given that energy policy is usually attributed to the individual states, not the European Union, which seems much more amenable to climate goals than some of Germany’s neighbours.
But let’s not forget that, of course, technology will play a role here as well as policy. And so, although I’m usually not a fan of blockchain tech as applied to energy systems, as we discussed last week with the Brooklyn Microgrid, it’s nonetheless encouraging that entrepreneurial talent is finally looking at Energy, and not just trying to build the next social platform.
The shift to Electric Vehicles is shifting the complexity of automotive mobility, and building a car becomes orders of magnitude easier (and cheaper.) We’ve seen a fair amount of innovation, especially on the high end, with various entries into the electric supercar market. After all, that’s where Tesla started out and look where it got them. But what may be indeed more interesting is the variability in form and functionality that a less complex car enables. Case in point: Deutsche Post, Germany’s postal service, unsatisfied with the commercial electric vehicles that were available in the market, went ahead, bought a startup, and built their own.
Deutsche Posts’ internal projections are that the project pays off after just 2.500 vehicles, and their on route to make 10.000 this year alone. Needless to say, the auto industry reacted rather miffed. I love these secondary order effects, because they remind you that what’s going to happen with new technology is usually not what the glossy presentations want you to believe. Also, it’s happening much faster than anyone predicted.
Talking of second and third order effects, what will the effects of wide-spread adoption of self-piloting cars look like? It’ll certainly not be contained to individual mobility. But unanticipated effects usually come with unanticipated costs, as well. So we might as well start to ask: if the visions of the future of seamless mobility providers run by multinational corporations are to come true, who’ll pay for the infrastructure retrofitting necessary to enable this future?
The Strange, Weird, and Interesting
End note
That’s it for this week.
Send me notes, forward it to your friends and business partners, and as always: see you next week!
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