Mobile Infrared Fighter


I’ve been working with the Kinect’s 3D sensing technology and realizing the immense power it could have on surveillance. In fact, infrared in general is a touchy subject because, I think, it offers cameras a view of the world that humans cannot see. That’s perhaps why Boston residents balked at a heat-sensing infrared camera that would teach them about energy efficiency.

heat seeking infrared

I can very easily see this type of technology being incorporated into surveillance cameras on the subways or sidewalks. And, as this technology advances, we may be able to determine the approximate height, weight, race and facial structure of every person walking by. It could even track the way someone walks! Imagine catching a criminal by tracking their strut! It would be like an uber-version of facial recognition. This could surely be a great asset for law enforcement; tracking down fugitives might be easier than ever. But for the privacy-seeking person, this is a nightmare. (Sure we can say this kind of thing would never be allowed. But isn’t that what people said about surveillance cameras?)

Anyway, how do we combat this type of surveillance?

Well these cameras use infrared, which is basically a non-visible electro-magnetic wave. Visible light has a wave length that we can see, but infrared has a longer wave length which happens to be the similar wave-length emitted by objects that emit heat. If we can interfere with these waves, these cameras suffer interference. Now, most of these cameras have a filter that can prevent some interference. But it’s not perfect, and the Kinect technology shows us the basics of how some waves can interfere with the camera.

Here, we just have two infrared cameras interfering with each other. It’s not a super strong interference, but it’s because these are designed for that type of work. That’s basically working as an impromptu IR-jammer — the cheapest of which is available online for super cheap, but there are military-grade IR-jammers, too.

Anyway, with a development of this kind of technology, we could design a mobile device that emits interference against IR cameras. And perhaps they can even be built into the back of cell phone — or be some type of peripheral that goes on the back.

If we looked at a Kinect depth image, it would look like this, sans this type of device (borrowed source image from Kotaku):

But using this type of infrared fighter, we could conceivable make ourselves — or at least our faces — anonymous:

This would essentially protect the face from detection, although this wouldn’t help as far as an RGB camera image. (A mask would do the trick! Or a beard…) But if this infrared blocker was strong, maybe enough to conceal the entire body, then maybe it would protect against this type of identification better.

In Witness’ “Cameras Everywhere” report, it says:

It is alarming how little public discussion there is about visual privacy and anonymity. Everyone is discussing and designing for privacy of personal data, but almost no-one is considering the right to control one’s personal image or the right to be anonymous in a video-mediated world. The human rights community’s understanding of the importance of anonymity as an enabler of free expression must now develop a new dimension – the right to visual anonymity.

3D sensing can be a great thing, but when used to track people without their consent — which is certainly one possible direction — it can be an incredible infringement upon human rights. So while this concept isn’t perfect yet, the idea here is to empower the every-day person with a hand-held device.

2 responses to “Mobile Infrared Fighter”

  1. Nathan

    Great write-up and concept, Alvin. This an interesting continuation of a number of projects regarding combating very surveillance using a light countermeasure of some sort. The Kinect adds a new dimension (yes i said that) to this, including the fact that the device emits its own sensor grid of infrared light, as well.

    I think it would be interesting to first began further work on this project by implementing the “attack” portion – create, or at least find and run, an identifying application of some sort. I am sure there is some code out there. It would be interesting to see how well it works, what challenges exist in terms of body types, positioning, speed, etc. By creating this environment, you can better understand what is actually possible beyond just the hype or speculation.

    Once you have this environment running, then you can began simulating the countermeasures. While I think infrared lights placed in different areas are one option, you might also look at how you might fool the Kinect into thinking it is actually getting good data, instead of just blocking it. Some sort of gait-changer walking device that helps user impersonate other users. Maybe some sort of material that affects infrared light in different ways, such that the depth detection doesn’t quite work as it should. It is quite interesting to think of how active anonymity and privacy tools can be employed in this range of light.

    Also, I want to note that I think Kinect type technology will be available in handheld gaming devices in not too long as well. I can easily imagine this in a Gameboy or a next-gen Windows Phone Game device, so this work is definitely relevant to mobile, and something that I think is worth thinking about a bit more if you are already working on Kinect projects else where.

    Keep up the great work. Really enjoying your participation in class and the thoughtful homework efforts this semester.

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