Home chevron_right
Activist Post

AI and AV Big Tech; Cameras or Eyes? Passengers or Pedestrians? Profits or People? Insight, Hindsight or No-Sight?

SNLS | January 21, 2019

By Patricia Burke

On January 15, the BBC reported that following the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a photographer discovered that his camera had been damaged.

A man who took a photograph of a driverless car on display at the CES tech fair says his camera was damaged as a result.

Jit Ray Chowdhury noticed purple spots on all his photographs after taking a photo of a lidar laser scanning system displayed by San Francisco firm AEye.

He says the $1,198 (£930) Sony camera was one month old and the firm has offered to buy him a replacement.

AEye said its system is not harmful to human eyes.


AEye did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment but in a statement to Ars Technica, chief executive Luis Dussan said: “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.”

Mr. Chowdhury said he was happy with the firm’s response but he thought a warning should have been issued at the stand.

“I have personally tested many lidar systems and taken pictures up close and [they] did not harm my camera,” he said.

“Lidar companies should test how camera-safe they are.”

Lidar works in a similar way to radar and sonar, using lasers rather than radio or soundwaves, explained Zeina Nazer, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Southampton specialising in driverless car technology.

“Powerful lasers can damage cameras,” she said.

“Camera sensors are, in general, more susceptible to damage than the human eye from lasers. Consumers are usually warned never to point a camera directly at laser emitters during a laser show.”


BOING BOING also covered the story, stating:

CES-goer says his camera was killed by a self-driving car’s LIDAR


LIDAR systems need to comply with rigorous safety rules to ensure that they don’t blind human eyes, but camera eyes are much more sensitive (this is the basis for IR-reflective materials that confuse CCTVs).

Self-driving cars use both conventional cameras and LIDAR to guide themselves so any camera-blinding potential in LIDAR systems on autonomous vehicles could wreak havoc with other nearby cars.

AEye uses 1550nm lasers. And unfortunately for Chowdhury, cameras are not filled with fluid like human eyes are. That means that high-power 1550nm lasers can easily cause damage to camera sensors even if they don’t pose a threat to human eyes.

AEye is known for claiming that its lidar units have much longer range than those of competitors. While most lidar makers say their high-end lidars can see 200 or 300 meters, AEye says that its lidar has a range of 1,000 meters. When I talked to AEye CEO Luis Dussan about this claim last month, he said that one factor in AEye’s long range is the use of a powerful fiber laser.

“One of the most important things about fiber lasers is that they can be amplified,” Dassan said. “Very short pulse, huge amount of signal.”

There are a few takeaways that are concerning about all of this.

  1. Cameras are replaceable…eyes, on the other hand, should hopefully last a lifetime. Cameras get damaged; only people get killed.
  2. We are using the wrong kind of math.

The kind of math that puts all cameras and all LIDAR into a claim that cameras are 1,000 more sensitive that eyesight makes for good ad copy, but there are many cameras and there are many variables in eyes. There are bumblebee eyes, eyes of one-month old infants, eyes in individuals with cataracts, eyes in people with metal or plastic glasses in close proximity to their eyes.

The National Academies of Sciences reported in 2008 that exposure to wireless radio frequencies has not been adequately researched in 20 different categories ranging from effects on children to effects on pregnant women.  The claim that all eyes are protected by current safety assumptions as new radar technologies are deployed is questionable.

SOURCE: National Academies Press

 Like the debate concerning wireless smart utility meters, unsubstantiated mathematical claims were made comparing cellphones and smart meters by industry. 

Put another way, you would have to be exposed to the RF from a smart meter for 375 years to get a dose equivalent to that of one year of 15- minutes-per-day cell phone use.

Source: SmartEnergyCC.org

The source of the widely promoted smart meter-cellphone comparison quote is a mercenary tobacco scientist playing for both sides. He testifies on behalf of the utilities denying harm from coal dust exposure, and yet he convinces environmentalists seeking to reduce fossil fuel consumption that wireless utility meters are safe, based on his expert opinion, and the prevailing 30-year-old outdated guidelines that cater to industry.

3 – We Are Using the Wrong Adverse Health Indicator

Boing Boing’s report said, “[U]nfortunately for Chowdhury, cameras are not filled with fluid like human eyes are. That means that high-power 1550nm lasers can easily cause damage to camera sensors even if they don’t pose a threat to human eyes.”

This claim contradicts the recognition that both the testes and the eyes are more susceptible to heating damage from radiation than other tissue because they are closed systems and cannot thermo-regulate.  Hence nature’s ingenious design of male anatomy … and the widely accepted recommendation that men with reproductive concerns pay attention to heat exposures, as shown here:

Hot tubs, laptops, and fevers are among the risks identified for “the boys,” but this is still based on the idea that it is the temperature that is the critical issue, while ignoring other mechanisms of harm

Will We Apply Wisdom to A Smart Future That Has Lost its Coordinates?

As a layperson, I don’t claim expertise in how the safety guidelines have been established, nor do I know much about cameras. I am not a medical care professional, and I don’t portray myself as one.

But I do know 3 things.

1 – It is Hard to See Where We Are Going

I, like many drivers, have difficulty at night due to the glare of a juxtaposition of different headlights, in different shades of colors, at different heights or angles due to the height of the vehicles, and mixed with environmental factors like precipitation.

Many high-intensity LED lights continue to be installed in the name of energy efficiency while ignoring the issues raised by the American Medical Society:

The American Medical Association issued a warning in June that high-intensity LED streetlights — such as those in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Houston and elsewhere — emit unseen blue light that can disturb sleep rhythms and possibly increase the risk of serious health conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The AMA also cautioned that those light-emitting-diode lights can impair nighttime driving vision.

Similar concerns have been raised over the past few years, but the AMA report adds credence to the issue and is likely to prompt cities and states to reevaluate the intensity of LED lights they install.

SOURCE: Washington Post

The rapid deployment of new technologies is being justified by an outdated theory that only temperature matters. The disruption of melatonin levels and circadian clocks do not cause the person to develop a temperature (thermal effect) when exposed to high intensity LED lights, yet they cause harm.

As society examines the potential of altering the technologies underlying transportation, we should look closely at where we are headed and why.

As reported by Smart Cities Dive, transportation experts are also raising the alarm on autonomous vehicles for other reasons.

A report, “Critical Issues in Transportation 2019,” by the Transportation Research Board (TRB), a program within the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), said while the growth of autonomous vehicles (AVs), electrification and connectivity presents great economic opportunities, growth must be managed effectively. If not, congestion and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) could increase tremendously.

“There’s a very good likelihood that as these vehicles get automated they will continue to be individually owned and not part of a pooling service or a mobility service,” Dan Sperling, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California at Davis, told reporters at a press conference. “If that happens, we really have a transportation disaster, because you will have automated vehicles and people will be in those vehicles a lot more. Our VMT will double.”


“Cities have been involved in AV tests and have been adding infrastructure to enhance connectivity, but much of the advancement is in the hands of automakers and startups who are pioneering the technology.”

SOURCE: Smart Cities Dive

2 – There is Nothing Perfect About a Perfect Storm That is Ignored

Sometimes, while driving, I am momentarily blinded by the sunset bouncing off of my rear view mirror, or when driving east into a sunrise.  This is akin to an issue where concave EnergyStar windows caused another homeowner’s aluminum siding to melt, described as a perfect storm.

If we keep testing technologies like the new 5G telecommunications infrastructure or wireless utility meters in an artificial environment devoid of tree cover, bees, and babies, and base our studies on limited variables and only one exposure at a time, we can’t apply what we observe to real world situations.  This error is compounded when we ignore reports of harm. This is where we are now in history, as portrayed in the many examples of Late Lessons from Early Warnings.

3 – Elaine Hertzberg Died Because We are Experimenting

For me, one of the most compelling reasons to rein in the unbridled experimentation with LIDAR-driven cars is the case of Elaine Herzberg. She is the pedestrian who was killed by a self-driving car in Arizona in 2018.

The report says that the Uber vehicle, a modified Volvo XC90 SUV, had been in autonomous mode for 19 minutes and was driving at about 40 mph when it hit 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was walking her bike across the street. The car’s radar and lidar sensors detected Herzberg about six seconds before the crash—first identifying her as an unknown object, then as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle, each time adjusting its expectations for her path of travel.

About a second before impact, the report says “the self-driving system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision.” Uber, however, does not allow its system to make emergency braking maneuvers on its own. Rather than risk “erratic vehicle behavior”—like slamming on the brakes or swerving to avoid a plastic bag—Uber relies on its human operator to watch the road and take control when trouble arises.


These details of the fatal crash point to at least two serious flaws in Uber’s self-driving system: software that’s not yet ready to replace humans, and humans that are ill-equipped to keep their would-be replacements from doing harm.


We can’t ask Elaine if the car’s LIDAR interfered with her vision before the accident, because she died in the accident.

But we have citizens reporting harm to their eyes and skin from encounters with the invisible rays invading their neighborhoods.

If the last thing that Elaine saw was a vehicle barreling towards her that was not smart or intelligent enough to stop, created by a humanity that is not intelligent enough to stop and heed the early warnings, then we are all the Elaine Herzbergs.

Artwork courtesy Floris Fleshman

After WWII, human experimentation without knowledge or consent was prohibited by international law, for good reason.

It is time to rein in the ambition fueling big tech’s involuntary testbeds, including smart meters, 5G telecommunications, and autonomous vehicles, in favor of precaution and informed consent.

As the late Carl Sagan noted,

We’ve arranged a society on science and technology in which nobody understands anything about science and technology, and this combustible mixture of ignorance and power sooner or later is going to blow up in our faces. I mean, who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it.




Patricia Burke works with activists across the country and internationally calling for new biologically-based microwave radio frequency exposure limits. She is based in Massachusetts and can be reached at stopsmartmetersMASS@gmail.com.

Top image source: Quartz

Written by SNLS


Drop us a line.

    play_arrow skip_previous skip_next volume_down