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German prof scores €2.4m EU grant to crack software on your bicycle

State funding awarded to break into private firms' proprietary code

By Katyanna Quach, 27 Apr 2016

A computer science professor has landed a €2.4m EU research grant to crack open embedded software on... e-bikes.

Holger Hermanns, of the University of Saarland, Germany, will investigate embedded software in batteries used in e-bikes, increasingly popular among City types.

Hermanns chose e-bike batteries for “safety reasons”, he said, as batteries control vital functions such as brakes and electronic suspension. Batteries are already regulated by several electronics standards, but Hermanns is interested in the software-driven interaction between the components.

His team aims to develop a product called EnergyBus, which will ensure that electronic components such as batteries, sensors and chargers work together smoothly.

"We do not understand what the software does, regardless of how well educated or smart we are," Hermanns, who is a professor of dependable systems and software, said in a statement.

The goal is for EnergyBus to be used as a new world standard where manufacturers will have to use a standardised plug and standardised software to power battery drives for e-bikes. This will be implemented by the International Organisation of Standardisation and the International Electrotechnical Commission. Embedded software in e-bikes will be tested against this standard to guarantee that it complies with quality and safety requirements.

Embedded software is a growing feature of cars, increasingly a feature on the Internet of Things.

Last year, Toyota – the world’s largest car maker – recalled more than 625,000 Prius hybrid cars due to faulty software which would cause the power to cut off and the engine to stall.

"In the involved vehicles, the current software settings for the motor/generator control engine control unit (ECU) and hybrid control ECU could result in higher thermal stress in certain transistors, potentially causing them to become damaged," Toyota said in the recall notice. Toyota said that no one was injured as a result of the software glitch.

Here at The Reg we've seen our fair share of hardware on fire... but it is rare for a firm to admit that its software was at fault.

"We do not understand what the software does, regardless of how well educated or smart we are," said Hermanns said: “This kind of embedded software locks us out of the products we own.” ®

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