In what is perhaps the coolest (and nosiest) research we’ve recently come across, Israeli scientists have discovered a way to eavesdrop by doing almost nothing more than pointing a telescope at a lightbulb.
The Lamphone uses a remote electro-optical sensor (i.e. telescope) to analyze the changes in the fluctuation in air pressure on bulb surfaces in response to changing sounds. These tiny vibrations are then used to recover speech and even singing by wannabe 007s lingering outside rooms.
In their study, researchers from Ben-Gurion University and the Weizmann Institute of Science stationed themselves on a bridge 25 meters away from what they deemed to be a target office.
From there, they aimed their telescope at an office lightbulb and waited to see what its vibrations could tell them. Upon catching the vibrations, they translated the optical measurements back into sound using a specially built algorithm.
The result? The office’s inhabitants seemed to be hanging out to the sounds of Coldplay’s “Clocks” and listening to a speech given by US President Donald Trump.
To make sure that it’s not only their private algorithm that caught wind of what was going on indoors, the researchers played both Trump’s words and the song to the Google Cloud Speech API and music app Shazam, respectively. In both cases, the sounds were correctly identified.
The only catch – aside from needing to develop an algorithm, of course – is that in order for Lamphone to work, the lightbulb in question has to be a hanging one.
So if you want to find out what your neighbors truly think of you, let’s hope they discuss the matter in the shade of the longest, swingiest lamp they own.