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These “Brand Killer” Glasses Act Like Real-Life Ad Blockers

The devices were inspired by an episode of the eerie British sci-fi TV show Black Mirror.

These “Brand Killer” Glasses Act Like Real-Life Ad Blockers

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When you get up tomorrow, try a simple experiment: How many logos do you see before you leave for work, or even before you get out of the shower?

Branding is so omnipresent that we tend to forget it–but that doesn’t mean the constant hum of logos doesn’t have an effect. Even a brief glimpse of a logo can change not only what we buy but even how we act. One answer to the onslaught of marketing: A prototype for a new pair of virtual reality glasses, called Brand Killer, that automatically recognizes logos and blurs them out like a real-world ad blocker.

“This idea was inspired by the British TV show Black Mirror, in which one episode features a future in which certain people are literally blocked out from the lives of others using augmented reality technology,” writes Alexander Crits-Christoph, one of a team of engineering students who hacked together the new glasses.

“We realized that this was a negative use case for this kind of technology, and we began to explore similar ways which the technology could work to empower the user. The natural case we found was that of advertising and branding, which are generally an eyesore and overwhelmingly present in society today.”

The prototype uses a hacked-together pair of virtual reality goggles, a small screen, and a camera to scan the environment for logos and blur them away. It’s a very rough prototype–Crits-Christoph, along with fellow students Reed Rosenbluth, Jonathan Dubin, and Tom Catullo, put it together during a weekend hackathon and spent only about $80 on parts.

It’s not intended for the market, but just to make people think. “The project was created to demonstrate the potential of current technology in augmented reality, and to make a point and start a conversation about the prevalence of corporate branding in society today,” says Crits-Christoph.

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It also shows how close we may be to having products on the shelf that can block out logos–and perhaps even ads as well (logos are simpler, since they can easily be stored in a database and recognized by the system).

“We considered developing a system where a logo would be recognized on the advertisement, the edges of the ad would be detected, and then the whole ad would be blocked out,” explains Crits-Christoph. “However, this was beyond the extent of the hackathon. Besides that, without some sort of clear distinguishing factor like a logo, it can be fairly difficult for humans to discern what is an ‘ad,’ let alone for a computer.”

With more than a weekend to work on a gadget like this, it’s easy to imagine that engineers might be able to figure that out and could also eventually make something that people would want to wear.

“The technology is already there, and there are also some devices out there that claim to be doing similar things to what Brand Killer does,” says Catullo. “It’s really only a matter of time before some creates an app for an existing augmented reality device, or decides to build their own from scratch as we did.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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