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Will autonomous vehicles replace humans in the near future? Recent reports of major computer and bitcoin hacks have displayed the vulnerability of modern technologies to the world, and not for the first time. The latest work undertaken by US students will do nothing to boost confidence. Despite a whole host of developments currently in process, there is no doubt that there is a long way to go, as a team from several American universities has just demonstrated.

Using simple sticker additions to several types of signs the team was able to fool an autonomous guidance program into thinking that the signs were indicating something else. According to handyshippingguide.com, a stop sign that was altered was read by the guidance system to instead be a 70 kmph speed limit sign. The consequences of such a mistake in the real world would be potentially catastrophic, especially if the vehicle was one of the heavy freight vehicles that are being experimented with.

The team also experimented creating fake signs to see how well the computers dealt with them (a possible future tactic for hijackers) and found that quite small stickers, the sort that might be placed on a sign as low-grade vandalism, could disrupt the systems’ ability to read the sign correctly.

While this experiment only demonstrated how camera systems on autonomous vehicles can be fooled, and most systems are linked to integral GPS and roadmaps that give the computer additional information, visual sensors are playing a key part in the autonomous vehicles decision making. This means that the ease that the tests threw them off would indicate that these systems still have a way to go before they will be fit to completely replace humans behind the wheel.