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Man’s $1,998 Camera Fried by Self-Driving Car Laser

Self-driving cars widely use a technology called lidar (which stands for light detection and ranging) to “see” the world using laser pulses. These lasers are designed to be safe to human eyes, but it seems they may not always be safe for cameras. A man at CES in Las Vegas says that a car-mounted lidar permanently damaged the sensor in his new $1,998 Sony a7R II mirrorless camera.

Ars Technica reports that Ridecell autonomous vehicle engineer Jit Ray Chowdhur had been photographing a self-driving car that was using a lidar system developed by AEye.

He was then horrified to find that all his subsequent photos showed clear sensor damage — there were two bright purple spots with horizontal and vertical lines across the entire frame.

Here are the photos Chowdhur was shooting when the damage occurred:

“I noticed that all my pictures were having that spot,” Chowdhur tells Ars. “I covered up the camera with the lens cap and the spots are there—it’s burned into the sensor.”

Here are some photos Chowdhur shot afterward that clearly shows the damaged pixels on the sensor:

AEye CEO Luis Dussan tells Ars that his company’s lidars are completely safe for human eyes but didn’t deny that they are capable of damaging camera sensors.

“Cameras are up to 1000x more sensitive to lasers than eyeballs,” Dussan tells Ars. “Occasionally, this can cause thermal damage to a camera’s focal plane array.”

There may soon be an explosion of self-driving cars (and lidars) on public roads, so whether the lasers pose any danger to things like cameras is something that will need to be looked into.

Lasers have long been known to pose a risk to cameras, and there are many documented cases online of sensors being damaged by the types commonly used in concert light shows. Here are two videos showing expensive Canon 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III DSLR cameras being permanently damaged by direct hits:



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