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ECE student plays lead role in new Cybersecurity@CAR Lab

Matt Appel loved problem solving and working on vehicles since he was young, but it wasn’t until he got ahold of his first microcontroller project in college that he realized he wanted to learn more about embedded systems and computer engineering.

A graduate student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Appel participated in the Center for Automotice Research (CAR) internship program over the summer working with research scientist Qadeer Ahmed on a cloud-based telematics devise that interacts with a car’s on-board diagnostics port and sends the data to the cloud using Amazon Web Services where it is analyzed and then stored in a cloud-based database. He also spent a week at the SAE CyberAuto Challenge and saw firsthand the effects security vulnerability has on vehicles. He has continued on at CAR working with Ahmed as a GRA.

“I’m working on a project focused on functional safety of CAVs (Connected and Autonomous Vehicles). It involves looking at challenges, specifically in functional safety, that are presented when the human is removed from the feedback loop,” said Appel. “Engineering design needs to adapt and include ways to replace the driver and my research is exploring how that might be achieved given the challenges of data driven models and machine learning. Down the road I hope to use these ideas to create a framework, an architecture and an algorithm to demonstrate these findings.”

Appel is also working in CAR’s new Cybersecurity@CAR lab, where he, along with Ahmed and his Capstone team, create awareness about security threats and develop software and hardware tools. It also acts as a red hat team to help industry partners understand the cyber threats and their solutions.

“My work over the summer as an intern involved telematics and customizing a piece of equipment to fit CAR’s specific needs. In the lab, we are taking things a step further and creating a telematics device from the ground up that can be used in the future for things like data collection, attack vectors for security vulnerability analysis of connected devices in vehicles and for simulation environment support,” said Appel.

“Matt is one of the core members of the Cybersecurity@CAR lab. His ‘get-it-done’ personality is very instrumental in establishing the lab, which has helped him bring his passion and research on the same page,” said Ahmed. 

“I love that at CAR I have already been exposed to some of the most present and new ideas in the world of transportation. I am learning about challenges in autonomous vehicles and all the different ways modern technology is being leveraged to help find solutions to these challenges,” said Appel. “I also really enjoy developing embedded devices and working in a lab that is focused on vehicle cyber security. If I ever had a checklist of everything I could want to be doing, the work I’m doing at CAR ticks all the boxes.”

Story courtesy of Colleen Herr at Center for Automotice Research