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Ignorance is bliss


I saw a thing at boing-boing about an “anti-redlight camera” device, and took a look.  I have to say the, far too predictable comments at boing-boing were the only thing of merit to the project.  I don’t know the indiegogo for No-photo is a scam, but I don’t think sending them money is going to do any good, because selling the finished product is almost certainly a case of “no one ever losing money betting on the stupidity of the American people.

Here’s the pitch.  1:  Redlight Camera flashes your car.  2:  No-photo reacts to flash.  3: It, “detects the flash, analyzes it, and sends the proper firing sequence to its own xenon flashes.”
4: It “overwhelms” the camera with it’s own flash.

In real life there is a step 5:  You get a red light ticket in the mail.

Because, unless there is some quirk of red-light cameras that I’m unaware of (despite trying to keep up with the latest trends in photography), there is a fatal flaw in the system: when the sensor sees the flash, it’s too probably too late.

I’ve been taking pictures for… call it 35 years.  I’ve been selling them (not enough), for 25 years. Here is how the flash camera relationship works.

  1. Shutter release is engaged
  2. Shutter begins to open
  3. Shutter opens fully
  4. Flash fires
  5. Image is captured
  6. Shutter closes

I think this is snakeoil because the system has to do all he says it is in somewhat less than 1/250th of a second, which is a fairly standard synch-speed for cameras.  That means the widget this guy is trying to convince you to pay for his getting UL certification, so he can sell it to the gullible (because he doesn’t have the $50,000USD he says UL wants to let him put their imprimatur on his product), has to be able to react (assuming that somehow the shutter is opening in response to the flash, rather than doing things the normal way and having the shutter open and ready to record), in a really short chunk of time.

So it’s possible (that’s what slave cells are for), but I still think it unlikely to be reliable.

He’s asking you to kick into his crowdsource request for $80.000; to fund a $50,000 cost (though to be fair, indiegogo claims $7,200 of that odd the top, so it’s only $22,800 over the cost of what he says his actual purpose will cost him).  For $5, you are “making a statement”.  If you kick in $2,000 you do get the fines for any ticket you get paid for (though you’ll still be on the hook for any insurance premium increases). Oddly, it gives you a discount on the product but doesn’t say you get one (for $150 you can have  numbered copy of the first run of 150 units).

Red-light cameras may be a bad idea, but I somehow doubt the real purpose of this is striking a blow for civil liberties, it’s a way to run red lights.  I don’t think it’s going to add to public safety.  Imagine, if you will, that you are behind one of these yahoos.  Imagine a flash goes off.  The counterflash fires.  You’ve just had a flash pop in front of you.  If it works, the guy driving can ignore yellow lights (or blow past reds, when he thinks it’s safe).  The trade off is, everyone else gets blasted anytime something trips the sensor.

(edited because Brooks pointed out I’d distracted myself from the actual time frame by thinking about it as a speed of light problem.  That means this link to Rear Admiral Hopper was lost.  You should go watch it).


4 thoughts on “Ignorance is bliss

  1. Speed of light has nothing to do with it, because the light reflects off the car at the same instant that the NoPhoto can detect it, and the reflected light and NoPhoto flash have the same delay on return.

    The reaction time of this system is limited by the delay between step 4 (flash fires) and step 6 (shutter closes) in your sequence. (The “image is captured” step actually covers the whole period from 3 to 6, and captures whatever light comes in during that period — ideally most of it will be reflected flash, but it will include other light too if it’s present.) There’s enough time there for a system to plausibly react.

  2. Yes, I glossed some of the process, and confused myself a bit. But the system has, for most cameras, less than 1/250th of a second to do everything he claims is happening. NoPhoto has the same delay, minus detection, analysis, firing, all of which it has to do before the shutter closes.

  3. So there’s a visible flare of light like a camera flash going off on the hood of a car using this thing? That’d be a real joy to be around at night.

  4. An Indiegogo project that’s a scam? Say it ain’t so! I, for one, still fully believe that any day now we will get our web series on misandry in video games.

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