Vibrosight Hears When You are Sleeping. It Knows When You’re Awake.

No matter how excited you are to dive headfirst into the “Internet of Things”, you’ve got to admit that the effort and expense of going full-on Jetsons is a bit off-putting. To smarten up your home you’ve generally got to buy all new products (and hope they’re all compatible) or stick janky after-market sensors on the gear you’ve already got (and still hope they’re all compatible). But what if there was a cheap and easy way to keep tabs on all your existing stuff? The answer may lie in Cold War era surveillance technology.

As if the IoT wasn’t already Orwellian enough, Vibrosight is a project that leverages a classic KGB spy trick to keep tabs on what’s going on inside your home. Developed by [Yang Zhang], [Gierad Laput] and [Chris Harrison], the project uses retro-reflective stickers and a scanning laser to detect vibrations over a wide area. With this optical “stethoscope”, the system can glean all kinds of information; from how long you’ve been cooking something in the microwave to whether or not you washed your hands.

The project takes its inspiration from the optical eavesdropping system developed by Léon Theremin in the late 1940’s. By bouncing a beam of light off of a window, Theremin’s gadget was able to detect what people inside the room were saying from a distance. The same idea is applied here, except now it uses an automated laser scanner and machine learning to turn detected vibrations into useful information that can be plugged into a home automation system.

For Vibrosight to “listen” to objects, the user needs to place retro-reflective tags on whatever they want to include in the system. The laser will periodically scan around the room looking for these tags. Once the laser finds a new tag, will add it to a running list of targets to keeps an eye on. From there Vibrosight is able to take careful vibration measurements which can provide all sorts of information. In the video after the break, Vibrosight is shown differentiating between walking, jogging, and running on a treadmill and determining what kind of hand tools are being used on a workbench. The team even envisions a future where Vibrosight-ready devices would “hum” their IP address or other identifying information to make device setup easier.

If all this talk of remote espionage at a distance has caught your interest, we’ve covered Theremin’s unique surveillance creations in the past, and even a way to jam them if you’re trying to stay under the radar.

[Thanks to Chris for the tip.]

16 thoughts on “Vibrosight Hears When You are Sleeping. It Knows When You’re Awake.

  1. About the: “(and hope they’re all compatible)”, The best chance you have nowaday’s with that seems to be the Open Source stuff. From MQTT to Node Red, for which a lot of people have added small tidbits untill the whole is more than the sum of it’s parts.

  2. Word! MQTT is to home automation what IP + Ethernet was to computer networks. All devices can talk to each other as long as they can talk to the MQTT broker (server).

    On topic: I built a piezo-based vibration sensor for our stairs. Used it to activate night-lighting. In the end, it was either too sensitive or not sensitive enough or both. Ended up using an IR motion detector, which was cheaper.

    1. @Elliot may I ask if you looked into the piezo as a low power presence detector? Most implementations of piezo vibration sensors poll the input but I wonder if their high voltage ability is sufficient to trigger a hardware interrupt.

      1. Interesting idea. I was just trying to get it working reliably, and never got around to the power minimization step. I was seeing about a volt when I stepped right on the stair in question, but it’s going to be home-architecture dependent for sure.

        Some chips have analog comparators as inputs. If you could run that while putting the CPU to sleep, you could control the wake-up threshold too. Might work. Quick and easy to try.

  3. Cool idea but I reckon the requirement for line of sight will be the biggest problem. In terms of identifying electronics usage what would be the advantages over something like what Sense.com use that already let them cover the whole house?

    Went into it more on the Amp Hour podcast but apparently Sense use a inductive clamp on the house fusebox to pickup the electrical noise from each appliance and create a fingerprint of it. i.e. a ‘Tempest’ approach to remotely monitor whenever something mains powered is used.

    1. I haven’t watched the video but LOS would only be required to exit the building. BLOS could take the data from there to wherever you want it.

      I know you only asked about electronics usage but this tag based system would cover portable electronics and non-electrical items.

  4. Does anyone know of any low power techniques that allow you to modulate reflectance / emissivity? The tags in this article reminded me that I’m keeping an eye out for low power means of exporting data over a few metres without using normal RF emissions.

    1. Piezzo ceramics with a reflective surface…
      Theoretically also passive LCDs, but the difference in reflectivity of those are rather poor.
      There are also MEMS devices for laser scanners, but something tells me those will be hard to get in single qty…

      1. Thanks, do you have any links or good search terms for the piezo ceramics? Quick searches don’t yield any components / hardware, just articles about frustrated TIR for touch sensor (nice) and quantum well custom silicon…

  5. Uuugh why is IOT stuff so slimy and creepy? Was it really worth it? Build your own versions of this stuff and run it airgapped or at least on a local network, that’s fine. But please don’t normalize Amazon and Google and Facebook putting this trash in everyone’s home. Cell phones are already bad enough.

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