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Purdue's PHADE technology allows cameras to "talk to you"

It has almost become second nature to accept that cameras all over the world – from streets, to museums and stores – are watching you, but now they can also communicate with you. A new technology from the Purdue University computer scientists has made this dystopian perspective a reality in a new article published today. But, they argue, it's safer than you think.

The system calls PHADE, which allows what is called a "private human addressing", where camera systems and individual cell phones can communicate without transmitting personal data, such as an IP address or Mac. Instead of using an IP or Mac address, the technology relies on motion patterns for the address code. This way, even if a hacker intercepts it, they will not be able to access the physical location of the person.

Imagine that you are walking around a museum and that an unknown painting catches your eye. The docents are busy with a tour group across the gallery and you have not paid extra for the clunky recorder and headphones for an audio tour. While meditating on the brush, you feel the buzz of your phone and suddenly, a detailed description of the work and its painter is in the palm of your hand.

To achieve this effect, researchers use an approach similar to the kind of directional audio experience that you might find in theme parks. Through the processing of live video data, the technology is able to identify individual pedestrian movement patterns and when they are in a relevant range – say, in front of a board. From there, they can broadcast a package of information related to the pedestrian's movement address. When the user's phone identifies that the movement address matches his, the message is received.

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Although this technology can be used to better inform casual museum enthusiasts, researchers also believe that it plays a role in protecting pedestrians from crime in their area.

"Our system serves as a gateway to connect surveillance cameras and people," said He Wang, a co-creator of technology and assistant professor of computing, in a statement. "[It can] be used by government agencies to improve public safety [by deploying] cameras in high-crime or high-risk areas and warn users [ing] of potential threats, such as suspected supporters."

While the benefits of an increasingly interconnected world are still the subject of daily debate and criticism, there could be an advantage in knowing that a camera is watching you.