Stolen MIT Laptop Plays Sherlock by Tracking Suspects
A stolen MIT laptop reported its own theft to researchers by snapping images of suspects such as this one.
Thieves who steal smartphones and tablets may soon run into growing numbers of smart gadgets capable of blowing their heists wide open. Several crooks found out the hard way after making the mistake of stealing an MIT laptop equipped with tracking technologies.
The laptop was stolen during a break-in at the MIT Senseable City Lab last fall. What the crooks didn't realize was that the laptop was one of several self-reporting machines capable of sending images and GPS coordinates back to the researchers — information that included pictures of faces and even one suspect's business address on his shirt.
MIT police took care of everything once the researchers gave them the incriminating evidence. Such unexpected results came from MIT's "backtalk" project that went on display in the "Talk to Me" exhibit at the Modern Museum of Art (MoMA) in New York City during the summer of 2011.
"This follow-up (literally!) to the MoMA project was completely unexpected," said Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab. "It shows us what might happen in a utopian/dystopian "Internet-of-things" world, when every object on our planet will be addressable and trackable, as scholars have been predicting for many years."
Still, this isn't as futuristic as it may seem. Today's electronics owners already have swarms of apps and online services that can help them track down their lost or stolen smartphones and laptops. Apple's iPhones come with a feature called "Find My iPhone" that leverages the device's GPS to track its location.
MIT originally sent 40 laptops to different places around the world so that the devices could report back on their own as they went through journeys of recycling or reuse. The project aimed at raising awareness of what happens to gadgets filled with batteries and rare metals at the end of their lives — an especially significant issue in a world filling up with smart cars and smart cities.
"When objects talk back to us, they can tell us unexpected stories," according to the MIT video. "And, remember, stealing from MIT is a bad idea."