Superman must have had a hell of a time trying to conceal his true identity, considering he spent so much time flying around with his face exposed for all the world to see. Apparently, it isn’t difficult in Metropolis to convince your closest friends that you are not “that other guy”, simply by combing your hair and donning a pair of slick, retro glasses (oh, and tripping over random shit and feigning incompetency while acting as your feeble alter ego seems to help).
So just how did he pull it off all that time? According to accepted comic book lore, Superman managed this feat by not only changing his hair and eye wear, but also through complex muscle / body control (as a result of his Kryptonian origins) – he was literally able to change his stance, posture and body form (slightly) to appear much weaker and physically different in his Clark Kent form. Of course, to accept this last concept you would need to imagine Clark Kent as a slightly pudgier, almost “slobbish” fellow, and I don’t recall his being presented as such in most of the comics, TV series, cartoons or movies…. That aside, he had additional tricks up his sleeve, as well! One particular story explained that the glasses were actually built from materials found within his Kryptonian spaceship, possessing certain properties that mildly altered the visual perception of those around him – when I was younger, this explanation was sufficient for me and I moved on to ponder other mysteries of the comic universe (for instance, why is Reed Richards able to build portals to other dimensions and alter spacetime, yet he is unable to find a solution to Ben Grimm’s skin condition??).
However, in a modern world rife with cameras, facial recognition and other complex software, how would these tactics fare? Surely these methods would not be enough to fool today’s “smart” technology, would they? Probably not. And that, my friends, is why I am confident that Clark Kent’s glasses must have also contained additional preventative measures, allowing him to move about freely with little chance of ever being identified as his “Super” alter ego. In fact, AVG (a company known primarily for its free anti-virus software for Windows computers) has just come up with something that Clark Kent would have surely been wearing, since one would assume he would have been way ahead of them in terms of technological development…
Alright, so to be fair, these glasses would not have prevented normal human beings from recognizing their friend right away (well, no more than the pair he wore already, which seemed to work out ok for him)…. What they would do is provide an added layer of personal identity protection, ensuring that no modern technology would be able to easily and readily identify his face – if Superman had originated in 2015, this would have surely been a serious issue for him!
So how do they work? Since infrared light is invisible to the human eye, AVG has implemented an array of IR LED’s within the frame of the glasses, effectively creating a beam of invisible light which is constantly projecting forward. Although humans cannot see IR light, they can indeed be seen by camera – therefore, whenever a photo is taken (or a computer tries to decipher a live image or video feed which includes your face), the IR light “privacy beam” effectively blinds the camera to some of the most important parts of your face. Most remote controls contain a small infrared light source at the front – we don’t see anything happening with the light when we press a button, yet any IR sensitive receiver or lens is able to identify the signal immediately – this is the same concept being applied for a different purpose. Rather than sending a signal indicator, we are using the signal to obscure digital images of our faces!
In the photo, you can see that the face is obscured by the light in the second photo, where the glasses were enabled – however, if you were to look at the person wearing the glasses at that moment (even with the device turned on) you would still not see the light. In addition to this primary line of defense against digital identification, the glasses are also constructed using diffusing materials which provide a retro-reflective property, ensuring that any images taken with the assistance of a flash would bounce the visible light directly back at the camera, as well! This doesn’t provide any benefit if the camera is not using a flash element, but it is still pretty cool. When most cameras visualize a relatively bright spot in an image, they tend to adjust the exposure properties automatically which can cause the rest of the subject to appear diminished – you can see the effects a flash would have on a photo, when using these glasses on a test subject:
These glasses are currently a “proof of concept” for AVG. With a little more testing and development, they might just turn into something interesting in the future, but don’t expect to see them at your local retailer any time soon. You can read more on this announcement from their website. For all you DIY (Do-It-Yourself) wizards out there, you can pick up IR LED’s from your local Radio Shack (does that date me, at this point?) or hobby electronics store…. Grab some cheap sunglasses (or a hat) and try it out for yourself!
At the end of the day, wondering how Superman hid his true identity from everyone isn’t that complex – considering the fact that he is “faster than a speeding bullet”, he would have plenty of time (either inside or outside a phone booth) to apply a little makeup and whatnot, prior to switching between personas. Given the level of powers he possesses in the comic book universe, this seems like a rather small issue to get hung up on (despite this, the debate rages on). And hell – if anyone ever identifies him, couldn’t he just pull a move from “Superman: the Movie” and fly around really quick until he has turned back time enough to undo the mistake. Problem solved.