Geo Week News

October 14, 2015

LiDAR Camo for the Cyber Rebel

Liam Young in LiDAR camo

Image credit: Liam Young, Source: The Atlantic

I’m sure many of you have read William Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer. If not, here’s a quick rundown: It’s a hard-boiled story set in a dire future where the world is ruled by giant multinational conglomerates that use technology as a means of control.

If you considering that we in the 3D capture industry are always going on about how someday everything is going to be captured and digitized, Gibson’s future may not seem far off. If LiDAR spreads to the degree that we are constantly scanning the whole world from our autonomous vehicles, from our UAVs, and from our cell phones, how can we escape being tracked?

Architect Liam Young has the solution: an anti-LiDAR suit. As The Atlantic reports, the suit is a costume for a film he’s working on with sci-fi writer Tim Maughan:

“The film, Where the City Can’t See, is set in a near-future Detroit, in which the Chinese run a special economic zone meant to spur the economy. In the background, there are groups trying to escape the endless machine-reading all around them—a “smart city” that has not just taken over and scanned every inch of the world, but has dictated the way that spaces are built. To rebel against those systems, people in Young’s film wear LIDAR invisibility suits.”

The article goes on to say that the suit is pretty simple, because LiDAR is pretty simple, and then goes on to describe a technology that sounds anything but: “Most LIDAR systems involve a camera spinning around on a tripod shooting our lasers at a high frequency. The camera then looks for that laser light to bounce back, and can work out the shapes and sizes of things based on how long it takes.”

It’s not exactly a pulley and lever system—but as anyone who has ever scanned a mirror or a black wall or a pool of water can attest, it’s not hard to confuse the sensor if you want to. Young designed his LiDAR suit to confuse the sensors by covering you in a “shimmery and textured” cloth. Basically, it’s covered in little mirrors that bounce the laser in weird directions. Its wearer shows up to a LiDAR sensor as a blur of errors. It’s like some sort of high-technology version of the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter.

Liam Young has a lot of interesting ideas—and it’s worth checking out the whole article. In it, he talks about creating buildings that are invisible to LiDAR, about how spaces or people might want to show up as a empty space in the scan. He talks about how this kind of suit may someday be a kind of fashion of their own “where you can be wild and playful within the visible-light spectrum.”

It’s all speculative right now (and we can’t even be sure if his suit works), but consider this: When William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his short story “Burning Chrome,” it probably seemed like a leap of the imagination too.

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