Tesla, Google and other major automakers are racing to build fully self-driving cars. They depend on spinning sensors known as lidar, which can cost automakers more than $10,000 each, but Jonathan Petit spent just $43 to confuse those pricey sensors and defeat them using a laser pointer, reports Business Insider.

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Photo by bykst (Pixabay)

Self-driving cars prone to hacking

Petit, a cyber-security expert, told BI that anybody can go online and get access to this item, purchase it quickly and just assemble it. This gives them a device that can confuse lidar easily.

Researchers have shown several times how easy it is to hack into cars. Hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek took control of a Jeep Cherokee’s UConnect system in 2015. The UConnect system is actually an Internet-connected computer feature that manages everything from the car owner’s ability to make calls to the navigation system.

Valasek and Miller demonstrated how they were able to wirelessly take over a Jeep. The hackers used a laptop connected to the internet miles away from the car to seize control of it and cut the brakes and transmission at the flick of a switch. The hack exposed serious problems with how automakers planned to manage such flaws in their software.

“When they did the hack remotely that was like, ‘wow that’s interesting.’ Now it’s not just looking at having physical access [to the car,]” Petit said. “It’s scary when you start to have remote attacks.”

Automakers need to spend money

It takes money to build self-driving cars, so it all boils down to how much the automakers are willing to spend. They can add more sensors as a solution, so that if one fails, others make up for that, Petit said. But automakers are always looking to lower their costs by cutting down on redundant sensor systems. According to Petit, when it comes to making tough decisions, automakers usually choose to save money.

“In the automotive space, just 10 cents off a dollar is kind of like a no go,” Petit said. “It’s a tricky line, here.”

Tesla, Google and many others are working to create a future in which people do not need to own a vehicle and even the old and disabled can get around more easily and change the way they live. They also want to decrease the number of deaths from crashes. However, to get there, automakers have to ensure that hackers like Petit are not able to take over self-driving vehicles.