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This Thin Film Is A Real-Life Cloaking Device For Your Office

A new window film from Designtex takes its cues from science fiction.

Open offices are privacy nightmares, especially if you’re trying to hide sensitive data on screens. But since open offices aren’t going away any time soon, there’s Casper: a new product from the applied materials company Designtex that works like a cloaking device.

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When applied to a glass wall or a window, Casper blacks out screens behind it. The transparent window film blocks light waves transmitted through LCD and LED screens. This makes them look like they’re turned off. Everything else in the room looks completely normal. While privacy screens have existed for laptops and individual monitors for quite sometime, Casper brings it to the architectural scale. It’s like a Romulan cloaking device come to life.

“Privacy has become like acoustics; it’s a big topic of conversation,” Susan Lyons, president of Designtex, tells Co.Design.

For visual privacy, people in glass offices or conference rooms usually close blinds or curtains to protect sensitive information. When designers haven’t thought ahead about privacy, employees may paper over windows. All of these interventions can disrupt an environment that’s usually open.

“Culturally, people are interested in transparency,” Lyons says. “Colleagues like to see what’s happening in the workplace. This balances openness and privacy but also the need for informality.”

[Photo: Designtex]
Designtex spent over two years collaborating with the furniture manufacturer Steelcase’s Workplace Futures division–a research group focused on understanding the future of work and developing products in response–on Casper. The film itself is about 5 millimeters thick and comes in rolls that are 54 inches wide. It’s applied to the inside of a glass wall just like any other window film, and an optional decal pattern–Designtex has 25 different options–can be added to the outside of the glass. Casper will cloak LCD and LED displays that are at least 42 inches wide, computer monitors, laptops, and some tablets and smartphones; it won’t work on projections, OLED screens, plasma screens, or passive 3D screens because they emit different types of light that the film’s surface can’t block. (Designtex is working on a version of Casper for OLED screens.)

Designtex worked with about 50 different clients to test Casper in its beta phase. The most obvious applications are for technology and financial services firms, which deal in sensitive data. It’s also beneficial for medical offices, Lyons says. Because of HIPAA–a law that protects patient confidentiality–doctors often talk to patients in closed rooms if they’re discussing private health information, which can make patients anxious or nervous. With this film, they could potentially make some of the rooms more transparent and comfortable–while maintaining privacy.

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While “visual hacking”–a term that denotes obtaining sensitive information through visual means, like simply looking at a computer screen or looking at documents on someone’s desk–might seem benign compared to data breeches and network hacks, it is a threat. A 3M study found that visual hackers were able to successfully get the information they needed in 91% of the time. In about 50% of cases, they were able to get the information in 15 minutes or less. According to 3M’s white paper, hackers were able to obtain employee login credentials, corporate financial and accounting information, and privileged information between an attorney and client. About 50% of the information they gleaned came from computer screens.

[Photo: Designtex]
Meanwhile, hackers have become more sophisticated with their spying strategies. In Israel, a hacker infiltrated a computer network with malware that hijacked the blinking lights common on most PCs to transmit info through the pattern of flashes. A drone was able to record blinking LED lights by filming through a window. Some Silicon Valley companies have become so wary of drones gathering intel that they’ve set up geofences to prevent drones from flying over their campuses.

Designtex’s window film represents a physical intervention to combat tactics like these and does it in a way that doesn’t impede on the overall look and feel of a space.

“We see ourselves as an applied materials solutions company,” Lyons says. “So how may we, with materials, solve problems in a felicitous way?”

Paranoia about information leaks and corporate espionage never looked better–and it’ll cost you. Designtex prices Casper at $160 per linear foot. Additionally, the company cautions that the film isn’t 100% effective at extremely acute viewing angles. Visit info.designtex.com/casper for more.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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