LED lights are everywhere nowadays, right? They’ve become inexpensive to make compared to older, less effective lighting technology. Compared to traditional standard halogen bulbs, LEDs generate up to 85% more light while using a fraction of the energy. They are even slowly replacing neon signs in iconic settings like Hong Kong.
Famous hacker Joe ‘Kingpin’ Grand has partially invented a way to take advantage of the popularity of LED lighting. The OpticSpy is a device the size of a large permanent marker that can read codes disguised as visible or infrared light signals in LED lights, translate the light code into words, and transmit the now-legible message to a computer via USB. The ‘reading’ of LED light signals would only be effective a couple inches away from the light, but it would still transmit a message indistinguishable to the human eye.
Grand has been famous since the 90s for testifying about homeland tech security before Congress and co-starring in the mid-2000s Discovery Channel show Prototype This! Today he mostly continues to educate others on technology topics via books and online content, and he runs his research and development firm Grand Idea Studio out of San Francisco.
It’s through the Grand Idea Studio that Grand is open-sourcing the OpticSpy in an effort to improve its technology and have the international tech and design community brainstorm applications for the tech. Some have expressed concern that the OpticSpy can be used for malicious purposes, but that ambiguity of technology kind of follows Grand’s credo on hacking. Though he calls himself a ‘hacker’, a word associated with Internet crimes, he sees hacking and technological innovation as a means to provide potential good to society.
So what does the future of the OpticSpy look like? Some analogs have already been produced by third party fans, and it’s been fully funded three times over on the Crowd Supply tech funding site since March of 2018. The future of light communication technology is looking brighter than an LED.