McAfee researchers were able to trick a Tesla’s autonomous systems.
Researchers at McAfee were able to trick two Teslas into autonomously speeding up by 50 mph.
The researchers stuck a 2-inch strip of tape on a 35-mph speed sign, and the car’s system misread it as 85 mph and adjusted its speed accordingly.
The safety of Tesla’s autopilot features has come under close scrutiny, but CEO Elon Musk has predicted the company will have “feature-complete full self-driving” this year.
It turns out all it takes to fool a Tesla’s camera system is a little tape.
Two security researchers managed to trick two Teslas into accelerating well past the speed limit by fooling their camera systems into misreading a speed sign. We first saw the news via MIT Technology Review.
The McAfee researchers Steve Povolny and Shivangee Trivedi stuck 2 inches of black tape on a 35-mph speed sign, slightly elongating the middle line in the “3.”
They then drove a 2016 Tesla Model X toward the sign with cruise control enabled.
Cruise control is a feature of Tesla’s self-driving system, Autopilot, that is supposed to control the car’s speed and keep it a safe distance behind the car in front of it.
As the car approached the altered sign it misread it as 85 mph — and started to accelerate by 50 mph.
The same happened in a 2016 Model S.
McAfee disclosed the research to Tesla and MobilEye EyeQ3, the company that provides the Tesla 2016 models with their camera systems, last year. MIT Tech Review said Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on the research but did say it would not be fixing the issues uncovered by the McAfee researchers.
MobilEye EyeQ3 dismissed the research.
A representative told MIT Tech Review the modified sign could have been misread by a human and said the camera hadn’t been designed for fully autonomous driving, which the person said would use a variety of technologies including “crowdsourced mapping” to support cameras.
The researchers elongated the middle line in the “3” by 2 inches. McAfee
Tesla’s newer models use proprietary cameras, and MobilEye EyeQ3 has released newer versions of its cameras that McAfee tested and said were not fooled by the modified sign.
The McAfee researcher Povolny told MIT Tech Review that the findings were still concerning, though, as plenty of 2016 Teslas are still on the roads. “We are not trying to spread fear and say that if you drive this car, it will accelerate into through a barrier, or to sensationalize it,” he said. “The reason we are doing this research is we’re really trying to raise awareness for both consumers and vendors of the types of flaws that are possible.”
The safety of Tesla’s autopilot systems is under close scrutiny. Last year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a federal investigation into two fatal Tesla crashes in which it determined the autopilot had been on.
The company is also fighting a lawsuit against the wife of Walter Huang, an Apple engineer who died when his Tesla crashed into a motorway barrier while on Autopilot.
Walter Huang’s Model X crashed on March 23, 2018, in Mountain View, California. KTVU via Associated Press
According to Huang’s wife, he had complained about the car’s Autopilot veering toward that same barrier multiple times before. Data released by the National Transportation Safety Board last week confirmed the claims, per Ars Technica.
Currently, Tesla emphasizes that its Autopilot tools are not meant to make the car fully autonomous and that drivers must always keep their hands on the wheel. But CEO Elon Musk insists that he intends to make Teslas fully self-driving in the near future.
Last year the tech billionaire claimed the company would have a “feature-complete full self-driving” vehicle by the end of 2019. He was forced to walk back that prediction during Tesla’s Q4 earnings call at the beginning of 2020 but still suggested full self-driving was just on the horizon. “It’s looking like we might be feature-complete in a few months,” Musk said.