Prototype Of The Week: noPhoto Frame Foils Traffic Cameras

October 17, 2012

Traffic cameras have been in use since 1969, but they weren't deployed in large numbers until the 1990s. Now that they've become commonplace around the globe -- catching speeders and nailing red-light-runners -- some drivers are calling for their removal. 

But one person has taken a slightly different approach. Inventor Jonathan Dandrow has found a way to stymie traffic cameras with a special flashing license plate frame known as the noPhoto.

The way it works is fairly simple. According to the noPhoto page on crowdsourcing site, Indiegogo:

  1. The traffic camera fires its flash to illuminate your car for a picture
  2. The noPhoto detects the flash, analyzes it, and sends the proper firing sequence to its own xenon flashes
  3. The noPhoto precisely times and fires the flash at the exact moment needed to overexpose the traffic camera
  4. Since the traffic camera is not expecting the additional light from the noPhoto, all of its automated settings are incorrect and the image is completely overexposed.  Your license plate cannot be seen you and you will not get a ticket in the mail.

So, while some people resort to dodgy licence plate covers that might get them pulled over, the noPhoto plate frame looks perfectly normal, causing only a momentary disruption when a traffic cam flash goes off. 

Pros, cons

The question of whether traffic cameras improve public safety remains largely unanswered. Myths and studies have propagated on both sides of the debate, and neither has come out a clear winner. In a few cases, the public seems to approve of cameras -- like when they're mounted to school buses -- but in others, the reaction has been far more mixed.

Due to public outcry, some jurisdictions have quietly deactivated their traffic cam systems. But in others, the devices generate huge revenues for city coffers and for the for-profit companies that operate the cam systems. The value of those dollars to cash-strapped budgets can't be underestimated. 

Is noPhoto the solution for drivers who hate traffic cams? Perhaps, in the same way that radar detectors are the solution to speed traps. But like those detectors, noPhoto could easily be rendered illegal by state laws.

Then there's the question of the device's long-term viability. noPhoto is a simple gadget that works by obscuring license plates during traffic cam flashes. But what about cameras that don't flash, or those that use video to catch violators? And down the road, what happens when crime-fighting technology shifts and traffic cameras stop relying on license plates, instead using other ways to identify vehicles, like RFID chips?

Of course, all this debate may be for naught. noPhoto has a fundraising goal of $80,000, and with just 22 days left, it's only now passed the $6,000 mark. Because this is Indiegogo, not Kickstarter, Dandrow will keep every penny donated, but he may end up well short of the $50,000 he needs for UL Certification -- one of the last and most expensive steps before the noPhoto enters production.

Still interested? Have a look at the demo video above and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

[via Cnet]


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