Self-Driving Cars Can Be Disabled With Lasers

Self-driving cars will one day be common on our roads, but there are still a lot of kinks manufacturers need to work out. For example, it’s pretty easy to disable a self-driving vehicle using a small laser that makes ghostly objects appear within its path. The car then slows down to avoid hitting the object, even though it isn’t actually there. When enough phantom objects appear in front of the car, it will stop completely.

Simple laser technology can halt self-driving cars

Security Innovation’s principal scientist, Jonathan Petit, demonstrated how a modified low-cost laser that looks similar to a mass-market laser pen with a pulse generator added to it can stop a self-driving car. The device’s setup cost was relatively affordable at $60.

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Petit added, “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.”

Laser light technologies create lidars

The new laser device can create any number of phantom objects, like pedestrians, walls or cars. The laser creations are called “lidars” and were designed to fool self-driving cars. Lidars are a combination of radar and light. They work by illuminating the target with a laser and then analyzing reflected light to measure out the distance while mapping out the object’s location.

Petit pointed out the problems associated with self-driving cars and mentioned that the car’s sensors were some of the most susceptible technologies. However, it should be noted that in the past, other researchers either hacked or made fun of GPS systems or wireless tire sensors in cars. Unlike short-range radars found in many self-driving cars, lidars are often the target for attacks thanks to the easy-to-copy light pulses that can be used to create a three-dimensional image of the car’s surroundings.