AN AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE ENGINEER and passionate photographer claims that taking a picture of a driverless car at CES 2019 destroyed his spanking-new Sony A7R II camera.
Mr Jit Ray Chowdhury alleges that, shortly after taking a picture of a self-driving vehicle on display, he found that his photos were full of purple spots. He covered up his camera with a lens cap and realised the spots were burned into the sensor.
After looking up different explanations for the damage to his camera, he realised that it was the car's Lidar sensor.
Lidar systems are used by self-driving vehicles to map out surrounding objects. The technology works in a similar way to radar, but uses lasers rather than radio waves. It measures the distance to its targets by illuminating them with pulsed laser light and detects the pulse's reflection with a sensor.
The car that destroyed Mr Chowdhury's camera was displayed by the Californian tech company Aeye.
The company's chief executive Luis Dussan noted that, even though its Lidar technology is completely safe to human eyes, "cameras are up to 1,000 times more sensitive to lasers than eyeballs... Occasionally, this can cause thermal damage to a camera's focal-plane array."
For Mr Chowdhury's camera, which he just bought last month for $1,198, this warning comes too late. Luckily, the firm offered to buy him a replacement.
Mr Chowdhury thanked the firm for the response but noted that he would welcome if it puts up a sign on their stand warning of the laser's danger for camera sensors.
He also said that Lidar companies should test how camera-safe their products are.
As many expect that roads will soon be crowded with self-driving cars, ensuring that driverless vehicles do not interfere with traffic cameras and other IT infrastructure might become an important issue in the near future. µ
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