Simple Stickers Can Mess Up Driverless Cars’ Navigation


Let’s not fool ourselves: the road to an autonomous world, where driverless cars are taking us cross-country, is paved with good intentions… but obstacle-ridden. Although Toyota, Nissan and especially Waymo are optimistic of hitting the streets with such vehicles in the near future, we can’t ignore the fact that those vehicles are still very far from taking sound decisions on their own. They can be easily tricked either by placing specific traps or by messing up with stickers on traffic signs! #automagic

The latter was discovered by researchers from the University of Washington. They tampered with a STOP street sign to see if essential camera sensors for an autonomous vehicle’s navigating system would be confused by it or not. Well, guess what? It was.

Simply by printing some stickers and adding them to the sign, they made the driverless car believe it was seeing a 45-mph speed limit sign. In doing so, the scientists effectively annulled the STOP sign, the car passing by it without hesitating, as a human would.

While human drivers can tell the difference between the original sign and the alterations, camera’s algorithms interpret the image in drastically different ways. That poses a threat to autonomous systems – hackers could easily cause chaos either by tampering with the cameras or with the street signs, adding elements that would throw off the sensors.

The only way to avoid such occurrences is to improve the technology to the point where cars take decisions based on more than just signs, like surroundings and existing traffic laws.

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