January 11th, 2012

GadgetTrak CameraTrace: From side project to new product

GadgetTrak CameraTrace: From side project to new product

Sometimes, side projects become startups. But what happens when a startup has an interesting side project?

That’s what happened to Ken Westin and his company GadgetTrak. The result? Their latest product, CameraTrace.

Part of Ken’s role with GadgetTrak involves teaching law enforcement how to use the types of information GadgetTrak delivers. This also pulls him into investigation. Think of him as a deputized technology expert. Kind of like our own CSI guy.

Well, part of that training focuses on researching stolen cameras. And that got Ken to thinking.

“I noticed that high end cameras—you know, the ones that tend to get stolen—the images tended to have a lot more embedded information,” he said. “The trick is getting to that metadata. Because it’s information that’s not readily available.

“But everything leaves a trace. Even with digital cameras.”

So Ken took on the challenge. And built a custom photo site spider to see what he could uncover. The question: Could he gather enough embedded information to correctly identify camera hardware?

After some coding and mucking, he let his spider loose. And it seemed to be working. But there was one major issue. It was too slow.

What they needed was more computing power. Enter another entrepreneur willing to take on a side project, Jeff Martens of CPUsage, another Portland startup that—you guessed it—provides more computing power by using idle time on personal computers.

With CPUsage helping power Ken’s spider, the throughput was exponentially faster. And by “exponentially” I mean “ridiculously.”

“In three months, we had the biggest photo database of its kind,” said Ken. “We hit 5 billion indexed photos and kept on going.”

So the photos were being indexed and the metadata analyed, but were they answering the original question? Could they catch camera stealing culprits?

It didn’t take long.

“We were able to empower the first recovery of its kind,” said Ken. “We tracked down a stolen camera using metadata. In effect, we solved a crime that wouldn’t have been solved.”

“I’m a big Phillip K Dick fan. And this was kind of like pre-crime. We were using technology to catch crooks.”

So like any good entrepreneur, his next thought was “Let’s find a way to monetize this.” And CameraTrace was born.

Now, they’re finding more cameras. Finding new ways to use the metadata. Reverse engineering some things to figure out how to find more cameras. And discovering new ways to solve crimes where images are critical evidence, like child pornography.

“People love the service,” he said. “And this is just the beginning.”

For more information, visit CameraTrace.

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4 Responses to “GadgetTrak CameraTrace: From side project to new product”

  1. chris says:

    Awesome. Good story, and congrats Ken and Jeff on the collaboration.

    Being a photographer I definitely see the value of tracking down my stolen 5D MKII. This article got me thinking though… what I’d really like would be for a way to track down my stolen images. Given you have a database of images and their metadata, it’s conceivable you could then ‘track’ them and tell me where they live at any given moment. Obviously there are other ways around being detected when it comes to the metadata, but your average user isn’t privy. I’ve used http://www.tineye.com to track down stolen photos in the past, but it’s not a single purpose app that would push notifications to me.

    Scenario: I post a photo on Flickr, or my portfolio, and I want to be alerted when it shows up somewhere else. This I would pay for.

    DRM protection market would be large and eager for a solution like this. Thoughts?

  2. Ken Westin says:

    We are working on something like that as well as some other features.

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