Laser can hack driverless cars

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Published: September 9, 2015 2:55:33 PM

A laser pointer kit that costs less than 40 pounds can be used to hack driverless cars and render them immobile, a security researcher has claimed.

A laser pointer kit that costs less than 40 pounds can be used to hack driverless cars and render them immobile, a security researcher has claimed.

Driverless cars rely on roof-mounted laser radar, or lidar, to detect and avoid cars, pedestrians and other obstacles.

The lidar units send out laser pulses that allow the car’s computer to build up a picture of the world around it.

The laser pointer kit can trick a driverless car’s laser radar system into thinking that it is surrounded by obstacles, thereby immobilising it, said Jonathan Petit, principal scientist at Security Innovation, US.

“I can take echoes of a fake car and put them at any location I want,” Petit, a former research fellow at the University of Cork’s Computer Security Group, told the electronics journal IEEE Spectrum.

“And I can do the same with a pedestrian or a wall. If a self-driving car has poor inputs, it will make poor driving decisions,” he said.

Petit has used a low-power laser and a pulse generator to create false signals that tricked a commercial lidar unit into thinking it had come across several obstacles, ‘The Times’ reported.

He was able to position these obstacles up to 350m from the car or as close as 20m. He could make multiple copies of the obstacles and make them appear to move. The hack worked when it was carried out within 100m of the lidar unit.

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