Coning Cars For Fun And Non-Profit

Two white Chevy Bolt hatchbacks sit side-by-side, immobilized in the street, their roofs festooned with sensors and an orange cone on their hoods like a snowman's nose pointed toward the sky.

Self-driving cars are being heralded as the wave of the future, but there have been many hiccups along the way. The newest is activists showing how autonomous vehicles are easy to hack with a simple traffic cone.

As we’ve discussed before, self-driving cars aren’t actually that great at driving, and there are a number of conditions that can cause them to fail safe and stop in the middle of the road. Activist group Safe Street Rebel is exploiting this vulnerability by “coning” Waymo and Cruise vehicles in San Francisco. By placing a traffic cone on the vehicle’s hood in the way of the sensors and cameras used to navigate the streets, the vehicles are rendered inoperable.

Safe Street Rebel is asking for an end to self-driving vehicle companies privatizing the benefits and socializing the costs of the development of this technology. These anti-autonomous vehicle demonstrations are the latest in a series of protests by San Francisco residents against the experiments run by tech giants with little to no public oversight. Privatization of transportation like the Google buses or shared scooter services have also drawn the ire of locals over the years.

As hackers, we know too well that corporations and actual people often don’t have the same goals. Sometimes a little creative mischief can go a long way toward rebalancing the scales. If you think “self-driving” is a deceptive term for these vehicles, you’re not alone, and we’ve seen some Open Source driver assistance efforts that could be more community-friendly than the commercial offerings.

61 thoughts on “Coning Cars For Fun And Non-Profit

    1. In the UK Midlands medium sized town where I live, most of the bank branches have closed completely. The real ironic twist is that they vacate the building so the ATM (cash machine) is also removed. It isn’t simply a move from counter to ATM, it is a withdrawal of customer service. It is happening pretty much everywhere in the UK.

  1. Cruise and Tesla are doing a huge amount of damage by giving self-driving technology a bad image. If you go into any of the actual reporting about autonomous vehicles, it’s 100% cruise actually causing problems. Cruise parks in front of ambulance, cruise plows through police tape, cruise blocks fire truck, cruise locks up in middle of freeway, waymo… gets rear-ended while parked in Safeway parking lot.

    As for the cones, well, I imagine that if you stuck a cone on the hood of a disabled person’s car you’d also render their car inoperable for a while.

    1. Nah, they could just drive forward, mash the brakes and make the cone fly off, then back up and get on with their day.

      It’s the inability to actually understand what’s going on, that makes these things dangerous. In this case it’s harmless, but like, driving straight into the side of a fire truck because the training data didn’t include enough side-views of fire trucks in a particular paint scheme is pretty awful.

      1. > Nah, they could just drive forward, mash the brakes and make the cone fly off, then back up and get on with their day.

        I doubt that. Side from that action being some what dangerous (driving with an obstructed view), you will likely cause superficial damage to vehicle. Those cones are not that light, and often weighted with sand, gravel, etc.. You’d at least scuff up the hood a bit, possibly knocking off some trim, or bust $4600 light fixture. Sure, if you’re in a life threatening situation and you need to get out of there that’s acceptable damage, but otherwise why beat up your car?

  2. Having self-driving cars is one of those things where we have to ask ourselves the question: Driving isn’t really dangerous or dirty occupation, why automate it? It comes down to the fact that most people need to work so why get rid of another one of the jobs that unskilled people can do? Giving people money for not doing anything is a non-starter, people are better doing something productive to give themselves a sense of self-worth and dignity and we can’t all be artists. I can see that automating dangerous work is a good idea, but we should think twice about automating things such as vehicle driving. Also, we come to another question, the public might like dealing with human drivers in such occupations such as taxi driving. We’ve had ATM’s for 30 years or more, but we still have bank tellers. Why? Because the public like handing their money to a human over a machine. ATM’s are fine in a pinch, but in my bank, there are as many tellers as there were 30 years ago, and there’s still a lineup to deal with them. Getting rid of employees might look good to the bean counters, but in the real world, will it work with the customer?

    1. I think it is definitely worth it, though not under the current approach. IMHO, the “goal” self driving cars should aim for should include coordination between nearby cars. Such a thing would allow them to perform maneuvers that would be impossible for people due to us having a nonzero reaction time. That would translate to more efficient intersections and an overall reduction in traffic. Of course, that ideal is not where we’re at right now, nor is it even what is currently being pursued.

      On a side note, I really hate the “we need to keep that job for unskilled people” argument. That’s the same argument weavers used to argue against mechanizing cloth making with power loom during the industrial revolution, yet here we are, with all clothes made by machine. I believe that for every job that we automate, another of a different nature will appear, either by people having more resources or by changes in technology. I tend to associate that argument with reluctance to change for the better due to change itself.

      1. I think the biggest benefit is that driving really IS dangerous. Self-driving cars have the *potential* to save many lives, if done right.

        On the other hand, simple driver assistance features like automatic braking go a long way. No need to have the whole vehicle drive itself when it can just take control away just as the driver is about to kill someone.

    2. “We’ve had ATM’s for 30 years or more, but we still have bank tellers. Why? Because the public like handing their money to a human over a machine.”

      Definitely not true in Poland. Last time I visited bank in person was about 12 years ago, when I was 18 and had to open a regular account. Self-checkouts are now everywhere. We also have those wonderful machines with boxes for picking up deliveries in our convenient time, instead of going to post office or waiting for delivery man. Progress man, it’s amazing.

      In some ways, we are far ahead of places like Germany.

      For example, one summer afternoon I needed some very specific bicycle parts. I placed an order in an online store, paid with my credit card and had the package shipped on the same day. About noon on the following day I got an SMS notification that my package is there, waiting for pick up. In the afternoon I picked it up from machine when doing my daily shopping. (Note: the store in which I placed an order was about 500 kilometers away from my town.)

      In the old days it could take a week for a small package to ship with state-run mail service. In the end I’d probably still have to go to post office and wait at least 15 minutes in queue to pick it up. Courier service was faster but often 3x as expensive, and you’d better be at home when they phone 5 minutes before arriving.

      Just a few years ago going to a DIY store meant you’d likely spend at least 5 minutes standing idle, listening to mind-numbing adverts being played on the PA system. Why? Because there’s a lot of customers and only one or two cashiers working.

      Yesterday I needed a single can of paint. I went to the store, got what I needed and paid at the self-checkout. Overall it took maybe 5 minutes from coming in to leaving. There were two cashiers – one at the regular checkout, other watching self-checkouts. They were idle and I overheard them laughing about not being needed anymore.

      Note: I still use cash, but only to pay the rent (this way my landlord avoids taxes 🤐) and to buy medicine (no need for banking system to know about that).

      1. AFAIK / AFAIKT and as far as I’ve experienced it myself everything you described works pretty much the same in Germany.

        > “In some ways, we are far ahead of places like Germany.”

        I’m missing the actual comparison…

        1. Germans love cash. Having some experience with out of control police states.

          You’d think the Polish would act similarly. But then again, I bet the Polish economy is higher % untaxed activity AKA healthy.

    3. @Giovanni Palucci said: “Driving isn’t really dangerous or dirty occupation, why automate it?”

      Because in an autonomous vehicle you don’t have a large meat-sack inside the vehicle all day spreading the latest deadly pandemic virus amongst all the otherwise healthy passengers.

      Sick drivers in cars produce sick passengers.

      This effect of people spreading virus particles in small enclosed spaces with constantly moving masses of air is even more true for public transport like busses and trains. HEPA filters and air conditioning in busses and trains do not work like it does on airplanes. The dynamics of air motion and filtering on modern public transport aircraft seems to be very different.

    4. Some of us have trouble keeping attention to the road. Or lousy reaction time. Or just are too anxious to dare to drive much. Even we should have the right to mobility, not be crippled with schedules and station locations of public transport.

      I for one look forward to our self-driving overlords.

      Taxi services, priced for everyone, not having to pay for a driver.

      I can see a “call center” for the vehicles, allowing remote takeover. When the car computer finds itself out of its depth, it calls for help. Then all the machines learn from how the incident was resolved, and next-next-next time the machine will know what to do.

      This tricking-from-the-outside is also why the cars should ALWAYS default to protecting the occupants. Otherwise malicious actors will use the do-not-run-over-a-stroller kill-the-passengers-instead “ethics” as an exploit for turning the vehicles into a mobile pinata. Luring ships into crash with false lights and then harvesting the wreck, ported to modern technology.

      1. >Taxi services, priced for everyone, not having to pay for a driver.

        Taxi services priced by a couple of giant tech corporations, to maximise the income, after putting all competition out of business by dumping hundreds of billions (which is what they have actually spent by now) into loss making businesses, to create the duopoly.
        Yup it’s going to be real affordable…

        Even if you “own” your own car you will be paying a subscription to said tech companies for the legally required “safety” self drive software.
        This will make it unaffordable for many people to keep a private vehicle.
        They won’t be able to take public transport because private robo-taxis will be the excuse needed to make buses even worse…

        1. It will get better after the next war, when there will be a surplus of autonomous war drones and their control cores.

          Kind of like the WW2 aircraft leftovers kickstarted air transportation.

    5. Right. Even with self-checkout lines at the grocery store, they usually have several lines with human cashiers open (at least at the store we go to most often), and people happily get in line to use them. I’m pretty sick of using self-checkout and having errors that require assitance almost every time. Might as well have a human doing the work in the first place.

      1. Only reason we end up using self-checkouts is because the check lines are long and we have only a couple of items.

        Personally I like the idea of checkers, and cashiers, and bank people for transactions. It just makes it more personable. Same with ordering food at a fast food. I don’t ‘get’ the ‘app’ thing when you could walk up to counter and get exactly what you want and then ‘sit down’ to eat.

        As for cars, I like to point the car where I want to go, not the other way around. Sorry. That makes me totally responsible for the cars actions. I see a lawyers dream in ‘who is at fault cases’ ….

        1. I hate the self-service kiosks at fast-food places. There’s rarely much of a line, and it’s so much better to talk to the cashier. I almost never see anyone using the kiosk. I tried once at a fast-food Italian place, and I could not for the life of me figure out how to order both meat sauce and meat balls. Another customer tried to help, he had no luck either. Then an emplyee tried to help, she couldn’t find a way herself. So I wound up ordering at the counter anyway. Not problem getting both there. One of my favorite semi-sitdown restaurants closed during the pandemic, and when it reopened, the only way to order was the kiosk. I haven’t been back since. I’ll have to stop by and see if they gave up on the kiosk idea and are back to taking orders at the table.

    6. Well not to sound like a wacko or anything but the personal automobile gave people unappreciated freedom in the 20th century, self-driving vehicles could very easily be used to take that freedom away.

    7. “Unskilled people”. Nice. If driving does not need any skills or practice, I dare you try driving a heavy truck with a nice small trailer or two in tow. I drive semis for a living, and learning how to handle one of those things does not happen in five minutes.

      Tapping on a keyboard is also fit for unskilled people. Learning how to actually produce legal briefs, computer software or anything else with the keyboard is the actual skill. The same goes for driving; any semi intelligent simian can learn how to turn the steering wheel, learning how to actually drive takes a bit more.

      Just for the giggles, go try a heavy truck. I bet you cannot even move the truck its own length without someone “unskilled” showing you the ropes.

      Any occupation needs skill, it just might not be apparent to someone completely unfamiliar with the job.

      1. I used to work an actual unskilled job, there definitely was a certain amount of skill to it, but most people were up to a useful speed in an hour. Even the really dumb ones didn’t take more than a couple of days even though they couldn’t get up to the speed of other people… and couldn’t be trusted to set up or plan anything.

  3. They should put 2 more safety cones behind at a distance.
    Next, could be games with motorized safety cones on the road surface.
    What would toilet paper do unrolled like lane markings?
    Scary that we’re spoofing killer things.

          1. Drone cone.

            That could actually work!

            Quadcopter on the top. Lightweight cone under it, payload doubling as a landing gear. Self-placing. Can be detachable/attachable, or can be fixed to the drone for proof-of-concept tests.

  4. I think the key to “self driving cars” is each car must communication with the other must like a network. When that happens all traffic lights and stop signs will be obsolete. Cars will pass thru intersections and the by-ways like data packets on a satcom path… You will summon your car, put in the destination, and press go. “Its the coming thing”…..

  5. I fail to see the hack here. Having an obstruction on top of the car most likely exceeds all the parameters that the system was designed to operate within. The only reasonable option is to stop and signal the operators that an intervention is needed.

    If you emptied a bucket of paint on a regular car’s windshield, the driver would most likely be forced to stop for a prolonged time as well.

  6. By the time corporations finally get autonomous vehicles to the point of everyone being satisfied, we’ll have Star Trek like transporters built into our cerebral cell phones and won’t need them anymore.

  7. Cone all cars.
    Privatized benefits and socialized costs is literally what car infrastructure is about.
    I feel strongly that these activists are either very naive, or are playing the fool and are operating with ulterior motives. If they were serious about their agenda, they’d cone all cars.

    Obviously I’d rather see better transit, we’re working on that too.

    Cruise/Waymo/Zoox/Toyota/Doordash/whoeverthefuck are all practicing self driving in SF, as an engineer not working for any of them but tracking them carefully (and participating in advisory bodies) I’m really looking forward to not feeling obligated to owning a car, and also not forcing humans into bare-sustenance wages playing private chauffeur.

  8. This shit is just stupid and reeks of a kind of teenager rebel level thinking.

    “We are protesting(lol) cruise cars being a road “hazard” by making them a road hazard.” Fuckin morons..

  9. What will be interesting in the self driving car future is seeing how the police departments respond to not being able to intrude on peoples lives the way they do now. Hack a day readers are likely no used to police harassment but I have experienced it and if you look at data traffic stops are by far how they make most arrests from running everyone’s id thru the database. With self driving cars it will be difficult to make up an excuse to stop the vehicle especially with no one to ticket (my understanding is the tech company takes on the liability and for crashes). It will be difficult for the police to replace the traffic stop and whatever it is I am sure it will be even more intrusive to our freedoms. My guess is the ruling class will likely just change the law and allow investigatory traffic stops under the guise of course of “SAFETY” it being the go to reason rights are forfeited. Traffic stops (harassing people) are like how 90%+ of arrests are made. I never understood why the police are so traffic focused, sitting somewhere waiting for a law to get broken seems like they need to downsize there force rather than looking for shit but that’s another topic.

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