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Good luck hiding from this new Chinese camera that can spot you from 28 miles away

A team of Chinese researchers has just announced their creation of an inexpensive but powerful camera that’s the size of a shoebox and which seems destined to further chip away at privacy and individual anonymity — what’s left of them, at any rate.

The camera is meant for surveillance and target recognition and is reportedly capable of spotting someone — really, anything — from up to 28 miles away, even in conditions that would otherwise obscure sight, like smog. And it’s able to do so based on laser technology and a reliance on artificial intelligence.

According to the MIT Technology Review, researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai figured out how to photograph subjects from so far away, even in a smog-filled urban environment, by using “single-photon detectors combined with a unique computational imaging algorithm that achieves super-high-resolution images by knitting together the sparsest of data points.”

It’s a major advancement for this kind of technology. Previous such cameras, for example, could only resolve and make sense of imagery captured by bouncing a laser off it from 10 miles away. The researchers, though, had to achieve multiple breakthroughs in order for their camera to actually work.

One is the 1,550-nanometer infrared laser, which reportedly won’t damage the human eye and is still able to penetrate barriers like fog to find its far-away subject. In tandem with that, the researchers also needed a way to combine the points captured by their camera, which aren’t enough on their own to derive a complete image from. That’s why they also came up with an AI algorithm they trained to make sense of the data even when captured from a great distance.

According to a paper published by the researchers, the potential applications here include remote sensing and airborne surveillance, with the camera design helping open up a new pathway “for high-resolution, fast, low-power 3D optical imaging over ultra-long ranges.”

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Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.