Researchers Use Black Tape to Fool Tesla Autopilot into Speeding

All it took was an altered road sign

Why This Matters

Humans still harbor an extreme distrust of self-driving car technology and Tesla is at the forefront, promising full autonomy sometime this year. Can we trust these cars—or any autonomous vehicles—if they can be tricked this easily?

Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S. Tesla

A pair of McAfee researchers used some black tape to alter a speed limit sign and trick a pair of Tesla cars (a Model X and Model S) into speeding at over 50 miles above the speed limit.

The big picture: According to a report in MIT Technology Review, Steve Povolny and Shivangee Trivedi used a two-inch piece of tape to subtly alter a 35-mph speed limit sign. While it’s hard to imagine how any human would confuse the bastardized sign it with one for an 85 mph speed limit (and where do those exist outside the Autobahn, anyway?), the car’s Mobileye EyeQ3 camera did, according to the researchers, see it as exactly that and promptly adjusted the electric car’s speed.

Yes, but… The demonstration was not so much about fooling the autonomous systems but proving that there are other ways to hack them beyond direct access to the car’s software or hardware.

Behind the scenes: Tesla hasn’t commented directly on the findings and the researchers said that it’s possible that even human drivers might be fooled by their sign manipulation tactics (they tried a bunch over 18 months).

So What: This could be an indication that Tesla and other car companies working on autonomous systems—and that are planning to deliver fully autonomous systems this year—need to collect data on things like local speed limits from something more than just the posted signs. Perhaps integrating map and local law enforcement data that could specify speed limits for all roadways and stretches of highway might do the trick.

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