helmet

The Brand Killer helmet blocks out real-life advertisements by making them appear blurry to the viewer. 

Photo: Courtesy of Reed Rosenbluth

One PennApps team has created an app could work like AdBlock for real life — and could potentially make them big bucks in the near future.

"Brand Killer" is aptly named for its ability to pixelate certain advertisements like Starbucks and Coke logos right in front of your eyes. The app was built by Engineering sophomore Reed Rosenbluth and College junior Jonathan Dubin, along with two students from John’s Hopkins University, Tom Catullo and Alex Crits-Christoph.

The device is put over the eyes like a “ski mask that fits over your head,” Dubin said. “Everything that the webcam sees is processed through a computer where the ads are blocked.”

“In the future, there is the idea that there might be a layer between reality and what people are actually seeing,” Rosenbluth said. “This led us to the idea of AdBlock, which sits between the browser and the actual website — what if we could have that in real life?”

While this app does not have as much of a use as a consumer product until the technology needed for the device is cheaper and smaller, Rosenbluth said that some television networks have already contacted his team for the use of their software. As the device is currently, the team is unsure what the next step might be commercially until the hardware technology catches up.

“Some networks are interested in using the technology to blur ads that they aren’t licensed to show in stadiums,” Rosenbluth said. This app could be helpful for when networks need to pixelate brands they do not have the license to use on television.

Although "Brand Killer" did not make the top 10 in the competition in January, it has received a lot of media coverage from popular sites such like Wired. Rosenbluth attributes this to when he posted the project on the website Hacker News, which is “like Reddit for tech start-ups,” he said.

They came prepared to the PennApps event with the idea and the materials they would need, while sometimes teams and their ideas for PennApps are formed that weekend.

This inspiration came from a British science fiction show called Black Mirror, which often analyzes the consequences that technology has on modern society. In a particular episode with Jon Hamm, the characters wear smart contact lenses that allow them to block people in real life like blocking someone on Facebook.

Due to time constraints of the competition that weekend, the device was put together with duct tape. The team explained that with smaller computers, they would not need to use a laptop to process the images and that is something they could implement in the future.

As it is now, "Brand Killer" is not necessarily meant to be a commercial product. Its purpose was “more to throw something out there for people to think about,” Rosenbluth said.

In terms of their hacking future, Rosenbluth and Dubin are unsure. “It takes a lot out of you. We had a good time at Penn Apps, but it’s draining.”

Engineering senior Chris Beyer, who was head of hardware for PennApps Winter 2015, is excited by the future prospects of this app.

“This could make a ton of money,” Beyer said. “They could even replace blocked ads with other ads. I think they should keep working to polish this up.”

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