How much of the motion picture industry's $3 billion piracy problem is due to audience members capturing movies on their digital cameras for subsequent reproduction and distribution? If it's a lot, then this will be good news for the movie studios: Scientists apparently have found a way to neutralize digital still and video cameras in confined spaces.
According to this post on Science Blog:
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have completed a prototype device that can block digital-camera function in a given area. Commercial versions of the technology could be used to stymie unwanted use of video or still cameras.
The prototype device, produced by a team in the Interactive and Intelligent Computing division of the Georgia Tech College of Computing (COC), uses off-the-shelf equipment – camera-mounted sensors, lighting equipment, a projector and a computer — to scan for, find and neutralize digital cameras. The system works by looking for the reflectivity and shape of the image-producing sensors used in digital cameras.
Gregory Abowd, an associate professor leading the project, says the new camera-neutralizing technology shows commercial promise in two principal fields – protecting limited areas against clandestine photography or stopping video copying in larger areas such as theaters.
"We're at a point right now where the prototype we have developed could lead to products for markets that have a small, critical area to protect," Abowd said. "Then we're also looking to do additional research that could increase the protected area for one of our more interesting clients, the motion picture industry."
Abowd said the small-area product could prevent espionage photography in government buildings, industrial settings or trade shows. It could also be used in business settings — for instance, to stop amateur photography where shopping-mall-Santa pictures are being taken.
(M)ovie theaters are likely to be a good setting for camera-blocking technology, said Jay Summet, a research assistant who is also working on the prototype. A camera's image sensor — called a CCD — is retroreflective, which means it sends light back directly to its origin rather than scattering it. Retroreflections would probably make it relatively easy to detect and identify video cameras in a darkened theater.
The current prototype uses visible light and two cameras to find CCDs, but a future commercial system might use invisible infrared lasers and photo-detecting transistors to scan for contraband cameras. Once such a system found a suspicious spot, it would feed information on the reflection's properties to a computer for a determination.
"The biggest problem is making sure we don't get false positives from, say, a large shiny earring," said Summet. "We need to make our system work well enough so that it can find a dot, then test to see if it's reflective, then see if it's retroreflective, and then test to see if it's the right shape."
Once a scanning laser and photodetector located a video camera, the system would flash a thin beam of visible white light directly at the CCD. This beam – possibly a laser in a commercial version – would overwhelm the target camera with light, rendering recorded video unusable.
If your local movie theater starts banning patrons with large shiny earrings, that might be a dead giveaway that this technology is in use.