New York Times Features UChicago CS Wearable Jammer Project

Increasingly popular digital assistants and home smart devices have raised privacy concerns over their “always on” microphones and the potential for unintentional recordings. To protect people from these intrusions, UChicago CS research groups SAND Lab and the Human Computer Integration Lab teamed up to develop a wearable microphone jammer, emitting ultrasonic noise to disable nearby microphones. 

Calling it a “Bracelet of Silence,” New York Times technology reporter Kashmir Hill spotlighted the project, and privacy-protecting precursors such as the “jammer coat” and Reflectacles. The article discusses how an Echo speaker purchased by Neubauer Professor Ben Zhao and an objection by Neubauer Professor Heather Zheng, inspired the collaboration with Assistant Professor Pedro Lopes, PhD students Yuxin Chen, Huiying Li, Shan-Yuan Teng, and visiting students Zhijing Li and Steven Nagels.

The bracelet is like an anti-smartwatch, both in its cyberpunk aesthetic and in its purpose of defeating technology. A large, somewhat ungainly white cuff with spiky transducers, the bracelet has 24 speakers that emit ultrasonic signals when the wearer turns it on. The sound is imperceptible to most ears, with the possible exception of young people and dogs, but nearby microphones will detect the high-frequency sound instead of other noises.

“It’s so easy to record these days,” Mr. Lopes said. “This is a useful defense. When you have something private to say, you can activate it in real time. When they play back the recording, the sound is going to be gone.”

During a phone interview, Mr. Lopes turned on the bracelet, resulting in static-like white noise for the listener on the other end.

A paper on the project has been accepted for the 2020 CHI conference, and you can read more about the work at the SAND Lab website, or watch the video below.

Related News

More UChicago CS stories from this research area.
In the News

Professors Rebecca Willett and Ben Zhao Discuss the Future of AI on Public Radio

Jan 26, 2023
UChicago CS News

Professor Heather Zheng Named ACM Fellow

Jan 18, 2023
Two students looking at a wearable device
UChicago CS News

High School Students Find Their Place in Computing Through Wearables Workshop

Jan 13, 2023
UChicago CS News

UChicago CS Researchers Create Living Smartwatch to Explore Human-Device Relations

Dec 12, 2022
UChicago CS News

Professor Fred Chong Named IEEE Fellow

Dec 09, 2022
UChicago CS News

The Computing Pipeline: A Foundation for Diversifying Computer Science

Nov 28, 2022
man browsing Netflix
UChicago CS News

Trending Now: How Netflix Chills Our Free Will

Nov 14, 2022
UChicago CS News

UChicago AI Summit Examines Promise and Concerns for Science and Society

Nov 01, 2022
UChicago CS News

UChicago Research Tests Whether Robots or Humans Are Better Game Partners

Oct 18, 2022
UChicago CS News

Five UChicago CS Students Named to Siebel Scholars 2023 Class

Sep 22, 2022
UChicago CS News

UChicago CS Students Emily Wenger and Xu Zhang Receive Harper Fellowships

Sep 14, 2022
UChicago CS News

Asst. Prof. Aloni Cohen Receives Award For Revealing Flaws in Deidentifying Data

Sep 09, 2022
arrow-down-largearrow-left-largearrow-right-large-greyarrow-right-large-yellowarrow-right-largearrow-right-smallbutton-arrowclosedocumentfacebookfacet-arrow-down-whitefacet-arrow-downPage 1CheckedCheckedicon-apple-t5backgroundLayer 1icon-google-t5icon-office365-t5icon-outlook-t5backgroundLayer 1icon-outlookcom-t5backgroundLayer 1icon-yahoo-t5backgroundLayer 1internal-yellowinternalintranetlinkedinlinkoutpauseplaypresentationsearch-bluesearchshareslider-arrow-nextslider-arrow-prevtwittervideoyoutube