Clever new LED lighting system thwarts unwanted smartphone photography

In a world in which virtually everyone carries a high-quality camera with them in the form of a smartphone, enforcing “no photography” rules — for copyright or privacy reasons — is next to impossible. That’s a problem researchers at the University of California San Diego and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have attempted to solve with a new project. To do so, they’ve created a smart LED system, which produces a flickering pattern that interferes with the camera sensor on mobile devices.

“We developed LiShield, a smart LED ‘light shield’ which deters illegal photography of sensitive physical objects, such as people, museum art, or documents, and automatically enforces the visual privacy protection without any user intervention,” Shilin Zhu, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “The basic principle is to illuminate the environment with an eye-transparent light waveform, so that captured images or video are distorted because of the camera’s rolling shutter mechanism.”

As Zhu mentions, what makes the solution particularly useful is that the flickering pattern is invisible to the human eye, since it takes place at such a high frequency — while nonetheless wreaking (temporary) havoc on a phone’s camera sensor.

led system thwarts photos mjk2nzu3nw
University of California-San Diego/University of Wisconsin-Madison
University of California-San Diego/University of Wisconsin-Madison

The researchers have also come up with a way to let “authorized users” recover the image or video by sending waveform information about the light’s flickering pattern to the mobile device so that the two can sync together, or by piecing together several frames of video to create a still image. Zhu says that it is also possible to get the LED to generate structured light to embed an invisible watermark, which can then be detected after the fact by online servers to prevent illegal distribution.

At present, the technology works only with a single LED and a relatively small indoor space. In the future, the researchers want to explore methods of using multiple smart LEDs to cover a much larger area. “We are also developing a way to further enhance the protection so that the system can be used in applications which require high security, such as would be the case with the military,” Zhu continued. “We are happy to help anyone who is interested in commercializing this technology to take it into the real world.”

A paper describing the work was recently presented on the first day of the ACM Mobicom 2017 conference, near Salt Lake City, Utah.

Features

Will high-res radar make tomorrow’s cars safer?

Modern cars have sensors designed to make driving safer. The problem? They don’t work well. A combination of radar, lidar, and cameras is a solution, but we aren’t there yet.
Product Review

Invisible until you need it, SimpliSafe is a no-hassle way to watch your home

These days, there a lot of do-it-yourself home security systems out there. How do you choose? Simplisafe’s latest offering brings together beautiful hardware and the ability to customize your home security package. We do wish that we…
Mobile

Here's the Samsung Galaxy S9's new Android 9.0 Pie interface

The Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus are here. The flagship devices boast some awesome new features and a powerful new processor. Here's everything you need to know about these Samsung phones.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Self-balancing skates, tiny tripods, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Robots are going to steal 75 million jobs by 2025 — but there’s no need to panic

According to the World Economic Forum, robots and A.I. will take 75 million jobs from hardworking humans by 2025. That's the bad news. The good news is that they will create far more jobs than that.
Deals

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Emerging Tech

An A.I. is designing retro video games — and they’re surprisingly good

Researchers from Georgia Tech have demonstrated how artificial intelligence can be used to create brand-new video games after being shown hours of classic 8-bit gaming action for inspiration.
Smart Home

Amazon might open 3,000 cashier-free Amazon Go stores by 2021

According to new reporting by Bloomburg, anonymous sources within Amazon say that CEO Jeff Bezos is considering opening up to 3,000 of the company's cashier-less, experimental Amazon Go stores by 2021.
Emerging Tech

Wormlike motion sculptures show how athletes move in 3D

Researchers at MIT have developed a system that offers athletes a unique way to visualize their bodies in motion. An algorithm scans 2D videos of a person in motion, and generates data points that can be 3D-printed into "motion sculptures."
Emerging Tech

Harvard’s soft robotic exosuit adapts itself to the needs of every wearer

Harvard engineers have developed a new multi-joint, textile-based soft robotic exosuit, designed to help soldiers, firefighters, and other rescue workers. Here's what makes it so exciting.
Emerging Tech

These flying cars want to take your commute to new heights

The future is closer than you'd think: Companies around the world are working on flying car models, with many successful tests! Here are all the flying cars and taxis currently in development, and how they work!
Computing

Tap Strap wearable keyboard gains support for VR applications

TAP System's wearable keyboard gains support for virtual reality, now compatible with Windows Mixed Reality, Oculus Rift, and HTV headsets. Type and tap for up to eight hours in VR without needing to look at a physical keyboard.
Emerging Tech

Robot jellyfish could be used to patrol fragile coral reefs

Could schools of robotic jellyfish soon be patrolling the world’s oceans, monitoring fragile environments such as coral reefs? A team of United States researchers certainly thinks so.
Emerging Tech

Versatile robotic skin gives stuffed horse, other inanimate objects some giddyup

Researchers at Yale University have developed a new sensor-packed robot skin that can be wrapped around inanimate objects, such as toys, to transform them into functioning robots.