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Jonathan Petit, a principle scientist from software company Security Innovation has demonstrated how a modified, low-cost laser could create “ghostlike” objects in the path of autonomous cars.
Petit told tech magazine, IEEE Spectrum, that cars would have to slow down to avoid hitting the objects, and if enough were present, the car could stop completely.
Using a laser similar to a mass-market laser pen, Petit added a pulse generator – something that can be created using a low-cost computer such as the Raspberry Pi.The set-up cost was just $60 (£40), he said.
This small and accessible gadget is capable of creating phantom objects such as cars, walls and pedestrians, that “fool” the eyes of the self-drive cars, otherwise known as lidars.
Petit told IEEE Spectrum: “I can spoof thousands of objects and basically carry out a denial of service attack on the tracking system so it’s not able to track real objects.
I can take echoes of a fake car and put them at any location I want,” he added.
Lidars, created by a combination of light and radar, work by illuminating a target with a laser and analysing the reflected light, to measure distance and map out where objects are.Thousands of these expensive sensors are used on self-driving cars.
Despite Mr Petit targeting lidars specifically produced by company IBEO Lux, he was quick to point out that it is not just problem for them, citing that he didn’t think any of the current lidar manufacturers had thought about this problem.
The British government has shown continued interest in the proposition of driverless cars being made available within the UK in the next few years, with three companies and universities already trialling the products in Greenwich, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes.
But the Brits still have a lot of catching up to do – Google’s self-driving cars have been cruising the streets of California and Texas for no less than 6 years, racking up more than one million miles of autonomous experience.
It is hoped that the introduction of self-driving cars in the future will could hugely reduce the cost of road transport by replacing truck drivers with computer power, whilst greatly reducing the number of accidents currently on the roads.
Mr Petit will present his paper, written while he was a researcher at the University of Cork’s computer security group, at the Black Hat Europe conference in November.