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Software Covertly Takes 3D Images From Smartphones

IU researchers have developed software that secretly takes images on smartphones and converts them into a 3D model of the user's environment.

Indiana University researchers have developed software that can create a three-dimensional image of a room by taking pictures from a smart phone.

During a recent study, IU researchers asked participants to use a smartphone for a limited period of time. What they did not know was that the phone had a program on it causing the phone to take pictures of its surroundings every couple seconds.

“This is a 3D reconstruction of someone’s s office. I can zoom in. This is the desk area,” Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Informatics Apu Kapadia says as he demonstrates the computer program that took the images from the smartphones and created a 3D image of the room the person was in during the testing period.

Assistant Professor at the School of Informatics and Computing David Crandall says he was surprised at how useful the images were.

“I thought that the images you would get off of a camera would just be so useless they would be of the inside of someone’s pocket or the floor, or they would be so blurry, they would be so crooked that you could get really no useful information out of it,” he says. “It turns out that while a lot of the photos are like that, enough of the photos are so meaningful that they can be combined together into these 3D reconstructions.”

The researchers only used about 25 percent of the images to build the 3D models. But building room reconstructions is only one use for the technology, Kapadia says.

“You could have scientific uses like occasionally taking pictures of the environment, looking at what the weather is like at a certain place, maybe you detect a rare species of bird,” he says. “It would be great to do such things, but there are huge privacy concerns.”

But if the wrong people got a hold of the technology, Kapadia warns they could use it to steal sensitive information—concerns he and other researchers are still trying to sort through.

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