2022 – UCI researchers: Self-driving vehicles can be dangerously tempted to drive

Common objects on the side of the road can cause a car or truck to come to a sudden stop

UCI News Reissue

When a driverless car moves, a wrong decision through its collision avoidance system can lead to disaster, but researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have identified another potential danger: Self-driving vehicles may be tempted to stop suddenly or otherwise engage in unwanted driving. By putting an ordinary thing on the side of the road.

โ€œA box, bicycle, or traffic cone can be anything necessary to scare a driverless vehicle into stopping dangerously in the middle of the road or at a highway exit and poses a danger to motorists and other pedestrians,โ€ said Qi Alfred ChenUCI Professor of Computer Science and co-author of a paper on This topic was recently presented at a symposium on Network and Distributed Systems Security in San Diego.

Chen added that vehicles cannot distinguish between objects that happen to be on the road or those that are intentionally left as part of a physical denial of service attack. “Both can lead to wrong driving behaviour,” Chen said.

Chen and his team focused their investigation on vulnerabilities of the planning engine, a piece of software code that controls autonomous drive systems. This component oversees the vehicle’s decision-making processes, which determine, among other things, when to drive, change lanes, or slow down and stop.

“The drive-car layout was designed logically with a great deal of caution, because you don’t want driverless vehicles to roll uncontrollably,” said lead author Ziwen Wan, PhD at UCI. Computer science student. “But our testing found that the software can be overly conservative and that can lead to the car getting stuck in traffic or worse.”

For this project, researchers at UCI’s Donald Breen School of Information and Computer Science have designed a testing tool called PlanFuzz that can automatically detect vulnerabilities in widely used automated driving systems. As shown in the video demonstrations, the team used PlanFuzz to evaluate three different behavioral planning applications of the industry-standard open source autonomous driving systems Apollo and Autoware.

The researchers found that cardboard boxes and bicycles parked on the side of the road caused vehicles to stop permanently on empty roads and intersections. In another test, self-driving cars that noticed a nonexistent threat neglected to change lanes as planned.

โ€œSelf-driving cars have been involved in fatal collisions and have caused significant financial and reputational damage to companies like Uber and Tesla, so we can understand why manufacturers and service providers want to be vigilant,โ€ Chen said. โ€œBut the very conservative behavior of many autonomous driving systems will affect the smooth flow of traffic and the movement of people and goods, which could also negatively impact business and road safety.โ€

Joining Chen Wan on this project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is Junji Chen, Ph.D. at the University of California. computer science student; Galen Chuang, UCLA computer science student; Shane Chia, UCSD Postdoctoral Researcher in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Joshua Garcia, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at UCLA; Jiaki Ma is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the newest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, and is ranked among the top 10 public universities in the country by US News & World Report. The campus has produced five Nobel Prize winners and is known for its academic achievements, world-class research, innovation, and the anteater’s mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gilman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 224 degree programs. Located in one of the safest and economically vibrant communities in the world, it is the second largest employer in Orange County, contributing $7 billion annually and $8 billion statewide to the local economy. For more information about the UCI, see www.uci.edu.



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