Self-Driving Cars Can Be Confused By Defaced Street Signs To Disastrous Results


Self-driving cars still have plenty of testing to be done until they’re safe for mass-release, and while most updates on the security of the futuristic vehicles revolve around preventing hacking, researchers at the University of Washington were successfully able to confuse the ability of autonomous cars to properly recognize and understand road signs. In short, a stop sign could be altered to make the car think it’s seeing a speed limit sign, and the results could be disastrous.

The researchers, who published their findings on arXiv, were able to pull off the disruption by putting stickers on road signs that fooled the image-detecting algorithms into thinking a right turn sign was a left turn sign, or an improper speed limit was put in place. Some of the stickers could be made to look like graffiti, tricking the car’s cameras:

The cameras used by the cars to identify everything from a curb to a human are called a vision system, and obviously, this system is crucial to the safety of the people in the car and everyone around it. The vision system has an object detector and a classifier. It detects an object around it, then the classifier decides what it’s seeing and how to react. Now that this system has been figured out, it illustrates how simply a few stickers can be used to cause havoc. Once the researchers were able to crack the algorithm, they could print out stickers to make any road sign they wanted.

Thankfully, these studies are done for a reason. Now that the researchers have been able to determine how a car’s vision system can be fooled, it can be remedied. The researchers suggest that the system is expanded to include logic around the context of what the object detector and classifier are seeing. For example, a 75 MPH speed limit sign wouldn’t make sense in a suburban neighborhood, and a stop sign in the middle of a highway wouldn’t be there.

What that means for “slow” signs on the highway with construction workers on the road is unknown. Perhaps they’d need to develop a proprietary sign that few people can get their hands on that the car’s camera system can recognize?

(Via Car And Driver)