Skip to main content

This is no April Fools joke. Developers of a new app that turns smartphones into speed cameras are getting ready to launch in the U.S. Users can record passing cars with their phone cameras to see the vehicle’s speed. The app, called Speedcam Anywhere, has already launched in Europe. It is controversial, to say the least.

Depending on which side of the fence you’re on, this is either a worthy addition to your phone or an incredibly invasive step towards becoming a dystopian state. Either way, it has become so toxic that its developers have gone into hiding over random death threats they’re receiving. 

How does the speed camera app work?

Speeding family in the 1930s | Getty

How it works is that pedestrians can record cars passing by they suspect are speeding. The app records the license plate and taps into state license databases to get the car’s make and model. With that info, it determines its wheelbase. From there, it compares the footage shot by the phone to the dimensions to finalize the vehicle’s speed

The phone then stores the retrieved data so that the user can report the vehicle to the police at their convenience. Or, it can automatically share the information with the police to generate a report. Right now, European police agencies won’t accept the Speedcam Anywhere information. That’s because it isn’t an approved certified speed detection device. At least, not yet. 

Who made the speed camera app?

Speeding ticket
Speeding ticket | Getty

According to the UK’s Guardian, the inventors of the app are made up of both artificial intelligence scientists “with backgrounds from UK universities and in Silicon Valley.” Beyond that, little is known about exactly who they are. But the motivation is obvious. With so many vehicle-related injuries and deaths each year, they view their work as a deterrent to speeding. Though, we would say that speeding is only one of many components of vehicular accidents. 

Initially, Google refused to publish the Speedcam Anywhere app for its Play Store. It said it was impossible to determine a vehicle’s speed using AE alone. Apple’s App Store has so far refused as well. But Google has had a change of heart since getting demonstrations of the app. It finally launched in the UK last month for Android devices. Whether Apple approves it or not remains to be seen.

“It’s a Marmite product”

Speed camera
Stationary speed camera | Getty

Man Gets a Speed Camera Ticket For Gloating About Not Speeding

But the developers’ more immediate concerns are over threats they have received. “We’re getting quite abusive emails,” one person told the Guardian. “It’s a Marmite product – some people think it’s a good idea, some people think that it turns us into a surveillance state.” (Marmite is a UK food spread made from yeast. Some love it, and some hate it, thus the reference.)

“It’s not a personal vendetta against anyone, it’s just – how do we make our roads safe,” he says. “There are 20,000 serious injuries on the roads every year – how can we reduce them? The way we reduce them is we make a deterrent to speeding.”

If nothing else, the information can lead to higher surveillance for certain roads or even prompt speed limit changes. Or, it could become a useful tool for the police. How would you feel about that?