Researchers Find A Way to Use Radar to Make Cars Hallucinate

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Today’s cars can connect us to our favorite music apps or warn us about the vehicle hiding in our blind spot. That’s amazing, but all this tech is also introducing new security and safety concerns we’re only beginning to understand. Cheap tech makes it easy to steal luxury cars in seconds, and automakers scoop up and freely share every bit of data they can about you. Now, researchers have figured out how to make your car’s radar system hallucinate.

Engineers at Duke University have discovered they can trick a car’s radar into believing anything and do it on the fly. The MadRadar engineers created can disguise an approaching vehicle or make a phantom car, and the system can do it on the fly without knowing the specific parameters of the victim’s radar, which is an essential point.

According to the researchers, no two vehicles have the same radar parameters, but MadRadar can detect them in less than a quarter of a second. Once it knows the parameters, it can transmit its signal to fool the victim’s radar system. The engineers conducted the study on real-world radar systems in cars moving at roadway speeds, performing the attack from other moving vehicles and while stationary alongside the road.

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MadRadar can also trick a car into thinking another vehicle around it suddenly changed course. As automakers implement and improve various driver-assistance systems that rely on radar, being able to trick these systems into hallucinating could lead to accidents or other types of attacks in the future.

Miroslav Pajic, the Dickinson Family Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University and the project lead, said MadRadar could fool something like adaptive cruise control. It could make your car believe the vehicle in front of you is speeding up when it’s actually not – and that sounds a tad terrifying.