Robots gone wild

Okay, the title of this article is a bit misleading. There will be no pictures of robots exposing their system memory or putting their power supplies on public view. Wired reports on a "robotic" car park system in Hoboken, New Jersey that trapped a bunch of cars in the lot for days. It is one of these systems that optimizes the space available for cars by eliminating ramps. Cars are gobbled up by the machine and stuffed into high rise storage slots. It is all run by software, and therein lies the rub.

The city of Hoboken, which owns the garage, got into a contract dispute with the software vendor, and the vendor remotely disabled the system, which made it impossible to get parked cars out of the device. This is a particularly disturbing example of a long-running problem between software vendors and customers. Some vendors routinely put back doors and trap doors in their code that allows them secret access to software running on customer machines. Sometimes this is just to be able to provide convenient access for updates and maintenance. But some vendors have used the trapdoors as a way of blackmailing, er, I mean "negotiating" with customers when there are contract or service disputes.

Bottom line: If you are buying software that can cripple your business or operation if it doesn't work, read the contract carefully to find out what your rights are.

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