As you may know, the Geneva Motor Show public days are this week, and while we’ve been covering a number of interesting concepts and cars at the show, there’s also something happening there that no one can really explain. For some reason, many of the cars are showing their location as being in Buckingham, England, and the year as 2036.
So, what the hell is going on there? Did a wormhole open up in the Palexpo Center?
While we’re pretty sure it’s not a wormhole in spacetime, it’s not entirely clear what actually is going on. We have some good clues, however, thanks to the location shown on the GPS screens. The Buckingham, England address is actually the address of Racelogic, a UK company that happens to make a device called LabSat, which can simulate GPS signals.
So, could this be some publicity stunt from a daring equipment company? Possibly. But Julian Thomas, the Managing Director of Racelogic, was the person to bring this to our attention, and says it is not some publicity stunt, because, in his words, “... it is highly illegal, then it would be a pretty reckless stunt.”
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Also, there’s the fact that their systems can broadcast a simulated GPS signal in a range between 10 and 20 meters (30 and 60 feet) and the false GPS signal is being broadcast across the entire Geneva show.
Thomas admitted that the location is the default setting of their LabSat device, which suggests that it is one of their devices sending the signal. But, in order to cover as much area as the signal is covering, someone would have to deliberately amplify the signal, or connect the LabSat to a much larger antenna.
We reached out to one of the people in charge of security at the show, Philip Echivard, and he confirmed to me that he’d received complaints from Audi, Peugeot, Renault, Rolls-Royce, Volkswagen, Daimler-Benz, and BMW, and there are likely others.
He told me that the false GPS signal is “pissing off” the carmakers because it’s making their systems look bad and/or vulnerable.
Even when employees from the carmakers try to manually reset the GPS location and the date, the spoofed signals overwrite the manually-entered information, so that’s not an option.
Echivard also told me that because the signal is not “permanent” they are unable to triangulate its location.
Thomas is hoping that whoever is broadcasting this amplified false GPS signal will see an article like this one, realize what they’re doing, and stop. That’s assuming it’s unintentional.
If this is being done intentionally, it’s hard to figure out why someone would want to do this. What would someone gain by spoofing the GPS signal and the date? Especially if they’re just going to use the default GPS location of the parking lot outside Racelogic’s UK office?
Perhaps someone is attempting to show how possible it is to spoof a large number of GPS systems in a given area at once, and how hard it is to stop? This technique could be used to cause real trouble for drivers, and, in the future, autonomous cars could be extremely vulnerable to attacks like this one, which could send them driving into unintended places.
And, remember, whoever is broadcasting the signal would have had to deliberately set up equipment to boost the signal strength to cover the area of the show. So it can’t be just something as simple as someone left a piece of equipment on.
As of now, no one is sure who is doing this, or why. So, just a heads up to anyone planning on visiting the Geneva Motor Show—if you look at the nav system of any of the cars, please remain calm, and know you have not been teleported forward in time and to a parking lot in Buckingham. You’re still in Geneva, and everything is fine.
If this small but strange mystery gets solved, we’ll be sure to update. We’ve also reached out to some of the affected automakers directly, and will update any commentary they may have.
Additional reporting by Justin Westbrook.