Researchers Mess With Stop Signs To Fool Autonomous Cars

Automakers around the world are furiously developing autonomous driving systems but researches from the University of Washington have shown that current systems can be easily fooled.

According to University of Washington computer-security research Yoshi Kohno, the cameras used by most current semi-autonomous vehicles can be tricked into thinking stop signs are actually speed limit signs.

Kohmo discovered that most vision systems in use rely on an object detector and a classifier, the latter of which interprets what the detector has seen, decides what the object is and can read what a road sign is saying. In his research, Kohmo says that if a hacker gains access to this classifier, they can use an algorithm and a photo of a road sign to generate an image which can be stuck to the sign to trick the car.

Working with colleagues from the University of Michigan, Stony Brook University and the University of California, Kohmo was able to get a self-driving system to interpret a stop sign as a 45 mph speed limit sign by simply sticking small pieces of paper on it. Additionally, by printing an attack disguised as graffiti on a stop sign that reads ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’, researchers were able to fool the vision system at a 73.3 per cent success rate into thinking the sign signified a 45 mph limit.

According to a senior research scientist from autonomous vehicle start up Voyage, carmakers will need to develop their self-driving systems to avoid such hacks.

“Many of these attacks can be overcome using contextual information from maps and the perceived environment. For example, a ‘65 mph’ sign on an urban road or a stop sign on a highway would not make sense. In addition, many self-driving vehicles today are equipped with multiple sensors, so failsafes can be built in using multiple cameras and lidar sensors,” he told Car and Driver.



    • Nate

      You should bring this genius to work at Tesla or Google. You clearly know how to solve these issues with no problem.

      • Marty

        Job title: Head of the Dunning-Kruger department.

    • Status

      It has to be contextual, like it was mentioned in the article. If the car detects a speed limit of 60mph in a residential area, and it can rely on historical data of past trips that used the sign, it shouldn’t exceed the real posted speed limit. The redundant checks against other known values will be needed in future versions.

    • Jay

      The point is other signs dont have unique shapes. If you can trick it for these than you can for the others too. It would cause great mayhem.

  • drc

    As someone who regularly rides motorcycles and bicycles, I just don’t see how these self-driving cars are going to NOT take me out while the occupant is busy checking his Facebook news feed. We all know that once people engage that AUTO DRIVE mode, they will be doing anything but paying attention.

    • Knotmyrealname

      You’re right. From my experience, motorcyclists have the propensity to provide other road users endless instances of unpredictable, random, illegal, brainless, selfish, unfathomable behavior that any autonomous vehicle will have trouble coming to grips with. No algorithm will be able to cope.

      • David

        Your “experience” is ignorant and ill-informed…

  • europeon

    And that’s how some startup with a CAPTCHA-defeating algorithm will be sold for millions.

  • Infinite1

    Nothing’s perfect and there’s always bugs to iron out. All and all, people should still pay attention even when full autonomy is achieved but good luck with that, people don’t pay attention now

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