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Guarda i tuoi piedi, ci può essere un trampolino di spia

Gli scienziati del Paese asiatico hanno fatto un importante passo in avanti nel campo della sorvegliana segreta inventando il “Pad spia”. Come l’iPad, il nuovo gadget è sensibile al tocco, ma non delle mani, bensì dei piedi. Ogni volta che qualcuno passi su di esso, il dispositivo wireless trasmette informazioni biometriche (come distribuzione del peso e schema del passo) a un database. Così che il servizio segreto potrà riconoscere la persona in questione.

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Scientists on the mainland have  taken a major step forward in the art of secret surveillance by inventing the “spy pad”. Like the iPad, the new gadget is touch-sensitive. But this plastic square is operated not by the hands, but by the feet. Whenever someone steps on it, the wireless device transmits unique biometric information such as weight distribution and gait pattern to a database. So the next time the person steps on the spy pad, the  secret service will know who it is. The gizmo caught the attention of diplomats at the US Embassy in  Beijing. According to documents released by WikiLeaks, they mentioned its existence to the State Department in Washington in February last year, saying they suspected the People’s Liberation Army had funded the  research. But Zhou Xu , one of the main researchers on the project, said the biggest financier – and customer – of the spy pad is the Ministry for State Security, the mainland’s spy agency. And the ministry seemed more  interested in using it to identify and track Chinese citizens rather than foreign diplomats. The ministry is currently testing the spy pad at two secret locations, said Zhou, who works for the  Institute of Intelligent Machines (IIM), under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The IIM is located on the man-made Science Island in Hefei , Anhui , home to the mainland’s most sophisticated hi-tech experiments in areas such as nuclear fusion and quantum communication. Working in an almost isolated environment, scientists had often surprised the mainstream scientific community with new ideas – one of which was the spy pad, Zhou said. In 1966, US researcher John  Bartko theorised that each person seemed to have a different gait, which was how everyone could be identified at a distance. Since then, scientists explored the possibility of using someone’s gait in personal identification. But most researchers used cameras to capture body movements. Few paid attention to the bottom of the foot. Zhou said he understood why. Due to the technical limitations of traditional touch sensors, the only data the feet could provide was weight distribution from heel to toe. But Zhou’s team improved the  sensors. And now the spy pad measures not only the pattern of static weight distribution under the foot, but also the sophisticated dynamics involved in each step, such as advancement, wobbling and twist. Using this information, Zhou’s team managed to increase the accuracy of identification and tracking to 98 per cent. The sensors were so sensitive  that even if the target changed shoes, the spy pad would still be able to identify them. The spy pad works like the Wii Balance Board, a gaming accessory developed by Nintendo for its hugely popular video game, Wii Fit. Both spy pad and the balance board are powered by batteries, emitting  signals wirelessly and capturing  biometric data under the feet. Zhou said the similarity between the two was no coincidence, as the IIM and Nintendo collaborated on the project. The spy pad had many potential  customers, but currently the only user appeared to be the secret service, Zhou said. The locations of the two test runs had to be kept secret because the device worked best when a target stepped on it, unaware of its existence. A person’s natural pace gave readings that had the highest level of consistency. The test runs were necessary  because the spy pad had not been perfected yet, Zhou said. The IIM had so far collected only about 100 samples, mostly from its employees, for the experiment. For real-life applications, a large data set from hundreds, if not thousands, of samples would be needed. But that might not be far off, Zhou said, as “the government wants to use this device to track some citizens of concern”, presumably dissidents. Zhang Bo , professor of  artificial intelligence at Tsinghua University, said the beauty of the spy pad was that it could collect and track people’s biometric information  without triggering any negative social repercussions. “Governments around the world have been actively seeking methods to collect personal information  secretly,” he said. “In China, the IIM has probably spent the longest time and allocated the largest amount of resources on touch sensors, so I am not surprised they have come up with this novel technology. “Collecting biometric information from under the feet is probably the most technologically challenging of all personal identification methods, because it’s usually very difficult to retrieve any personal information from under the feet. “But unlike fingerprint collection, surveillance cameras or naked body scans, this method will certainly  trigger little public outcry.”

Fonte: South China Morning Post, 5 gennaio 2011