On August 20 a Google Lexus car was hit from behind while stopping at a pedestrian crosswalk. According to the August report the computer operated Google car began its stop until the human test driver disengaged the computer controls and completed the stop himself. the collision happened moments later.
The post crash data shows the Google car was making a slower and gradual stop and would have arrived closer to the crosswalk if the human test driver had not taken over. If the computer had completed the stop instead of the driver, the accident might have been less severe. The computer guided stop might have provided more space for the vehicle behind to stop compared to the test drivers harder stop. Maybe computer drivers drive better than humans, but there are still safety concerns about this technology.
Google cars, a type of Autonomous Vehicle, ‘sees’ the road by laser imaging technology called Lidar. However, new research shows that the car can be hacked to interfere with its laser imaging. Autonomous vehicles can be tricked into seeing false road obstacles. This could cause accidents if the car were to suddenly stop in the middle of traffic for an obstacle that isn’t there.
Jonathan Petit a former researcher of University of Cork’s Computer Security Group was able to make a device from miniature computers and laser technology to demonstrate this hacking vulnerability.
“I can spoof thousands of objects and basically carry out a denial-of-service attack on the tracking system so it’s not able to track real objects,” Petit told IEEE spectrum. “I can take echoes of a fake car and put them at any location I want. I don’t think any of the lidar manufacturers have thought about this or tried this.” Johnathan Petit report will be presenting at Black Hat Europe conference in November 2015.
There are potential benefits of a driver-less car like Google car. Drunk driving would no longer be a threat if the car drives itself instead of the drunk driver. Imagine the combination medical tracking technology with Google cars. In sudden emergencies if the driver or passenger has a seizure or heart attack, hypothetically, the car could detect this and drive to the nearest hospital. In the meantime, we should still be cautious about Google cars unless they become safe and hacker proof.