A recent experiment showed that a home-made gadget can bring self-driving cars to a standstill. On the Htet Tayza Blog I explore what this indicates about the future of the revolutionary new automotive technology.
Driving technology revolution
The capabilities of cars have always been restricted by the people behind their wheels. Experts have been trying to determine how they can develop technology which will allow a car to drive itself since as far back as the 1920s. The digital revolution of the mid-20th Century, according to Computer History, facilitated the creation of automatic driving technologies.
This led to the eventual rise of the self-driving car, a robotic vehicle that’s designed to travel between destinations without a human operator. The technology has now entered the mainstream, with giant companies such as Google, Mercedes and Tesla increasingly taking up the challenge of creating ever more innovative self-driving cars. Business Insider wrote that a BI Intelligence report predicted that there would be 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020.
Brought to a standstill
Self-driving cars can operate automatically without causing accidents because they use thousands of ‘lidars.’ These are expensive lasers that combine light and radar to detect objects in the road, so cars can avoid crashing. They illuminate the object with a laser, analyse the reflected light to measure distance, and map out where objects are so the car knows to avoid them.
The BBC reported that security researcher Jonathan Petit has found a way to render lidars ineffective. Petit revealed that he developed a modified, low cost (set up was $60) laser which could create ghostlike objects e.g. cars, walls, pedestrians, and project them into the path of self-driving cars. When faced with these phantom objects, the researcher told tech magazine IEEE Spectrum, self-driving cars slowed down or stopped altogether, to avoid crashing into them.
The researcher explained that “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.” He added, “I can take echoes of a fake car and put them at any location I want.” Petit’s experiment involved lidars produced by IBEO Lux, but he noted, “I don’t think any of the lidar manufacturers have thought about this or tried this.”
Petit’s experiment showed that self-driving car technology is far from infallible, but you could say the same thing about every technological innovation ever created. Lidar producers will eventually find ways to overcome this technological hitch, I’m sure, to make the next generation of self-driving cars more advanced than ever before.