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CES 2017: Controversial red light cameras defeated by clever electronics design

A clever electronics design was exhibited at CES in Las Vegas this year: The noPhoto Speed and Red Light Camera Jammer.

A young entrepreneur’s love of cars, amateur photography, and high-end audio and video setups led to a solution to defeat the dreaded red light camera.

Red light cameras are a controversial subject, especially here in the wild, wild West of Phoenix, AZ. Most Arizona municipalities discontinued their photo-enforcement programs in March 2016 after Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich declared they were operating illegally. Two months later the cameras made a re-appearance after some legal hurdles were overcome. The controversy continues.

No Limits Enterprises took up the gauntlet and built their first prototype using infrared LEDs because while taking photos in a new home theater room, the inventor noticed that infrared light from remote controls was clearly visible on camera, even though it was invisible to the naked eye—the design failed.

When investigating this first failure, the team discovered that infrared LEDs were not able to overpower the ambient infrared light coming from the sun. The most powerful commercially available LEDs were not even visible in full sunlight, regardless of how many they chained together. Other difficulties also needed to be addressed like the fact that present flash detection circuits were not sensitive enough to reliably detect a flash from either consumer or speed cameras in sunlight. They would need to find a method to solve false-alert filtering, attaching their device to the license plate, and to make their design able to be powered by a noisy 12-volt car electrical system.

The small band of entrepreneurs went on to build a bare circuit board prototype using xenon flash tubes instead of infrared LEDs. Success!

Essentially the system makes the license plate portion of the image too bright for the Red Light camera's sensor to handle. Sounds simple but there were challenges to overcome. One was the need to develop flash detection circuitry that could detect a typical traffic enforcement flash as far away as 100+ feet in direct sunlight. The second major hurdle was that their flash detection circuit was so good that it was detecting too many sources of light, causing false triggers. The sun, car headlights, and even a flashlight would set the device off! The team knew that false triggers were not such a big problem; they do slightly reduce bulb life so they needed to eliminate them. By creating a powerful filtering circuitry, the team was able to perform real-time analysis of the detected light.

Their website has an excellent description and videos demonstrating the functionality of the system.

Their website also answers some of the most asked questions about their technology plus myths and legality of using such a system on your car.

What do you think about this product and red light and speeding cameras?

6 comments on “CES 2017: Controversial red light cameras defeated by clever electronics design

  1. antedeluvian
    January 9, 2017

    Running red lights kills, maims and causes damage. This device allows (perhaps even encourages) a driver to threaten society with impunity. I fail to see how this device qualifies as a benefit in any way.

     

    In Ontario the crux of the definition of Professional Engineering is that the design will not harm life nor cause damage to property. It is reasonable to assume that this is true in all jurisdictions. I believe the engineer who designed this should be disciplined.

     

    Even if not legally liable, I believe No Limit Enterprises would be morally culpable in the event of an accident and I would hope that some enterprising lawyer would make this point in a court of law. I think that if anyone involved in a collision and has the device installed, should have his insurance claim on his vehicle automatically denied.

     

    Perhaps NLE should next design a device that defeats breathalyzers (sarcasm).

  2. Steve Taranovich
    January 9, 2017

    @antedeluvian—I am neither for or against what this product does until I see more statistics that are verifiable regarding truly dangerous red light runners and people who get unfairly ticketed because of this technology. I just wonder why this product has not been made illegal if it is deemed dangerous.

    My main interest in this blog was only to admire the creativity and the persistence of the designer and the flow of the design process as a help to designers that read Planet Analog.

    Maybe the so-called Red Light Camera idea should be refined in order to catch truly speeding cars that ignore red lights and not punish those who have to make that last minute decision to enter the intersection on a yellow light or not.

    It certainly is a controversial subject

  3. emeric2
    January 9, 2017

    The CES 2017 is looking very interesting, it remains to know what other finds will be presented!

  4. RadioGraybeard
    January 11, 2017

    Only a fool (or worse) would argue that running red lights isn't dangerous, but there's a difference between approaching a light that's red and intending to run it vs. someone missing the light change by a tenth of a second because as Steve says, they misjudged “that last minute decision to enter the intersection on a yellow light or not.” 

    I think one of the reasons there is widespread distrust of these cameras is that there appear to be kickback mechanisms in place for the companies that sell police departments the cameras.  Locally, there have been reports of a company that got somewhere around 30% of the ticket revenues for providing the cameras.  I think it makes the people suspicous that the whole things is a fundraising exercise, not a safety exercise. 

    In an age where even the most cursory search of the term “civil forfeiture” turns up tons of horror stories, people are afraid of that.

     

  5. CC VanDorne
    January 17, 2017

    I have dreamt of making this very device and I applaud the designers.  Thank you for this article.

  6. Pingback: A Look Back At 10 Years Of Product Launch Controversy At CES - The Product Manager

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