WH Visitor Records show that Barbie's brainy makeover came after Mattel execs — Evelyn Mazzocco, Julia Pistor, Heather Lazarus — were summoned to the White House last April to meet with the White House Council on Women and Girls. A little Googling suggests other attendees at the sit-down included representatives of the nation's leading toy makers (Disney Consumer, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, American Girl), media giants (Disney Channels, Viacom, TIME, Scholastic, Univision, Participant Media, Cartoon Network, Netflix), retailers (Walmart, Target), educators, scientists, the U.S. Dept. of Education (including the Deputy Director of Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative), philanthropists (Rockefeller, Harnisch Foundations) — and Google. Representing Google was CS Education in Media Program Manager Julie Ann Crommett, who has worked with Disney to shape programming to inspire girls to pursue CS in conjunction with the search giant's $50 million Made With Code initiative.
The April White House meeting appears to be a reschedule of a planned March meeting that was to have included other Mattel execs, including Stephanie Cota, Venetia Davie, and Lori Pantel, to whom the task of apologizing for Computer Engineer Barbie fell last November. For the first time in over a decade, Barbie was no longer the most popular girls' toy last holiday season, having lost her crown to Disney Princesses Elsa and Anna, who coincidentally teamed up with Google-backed Code.org last December to "teach President Obama to code" at a widely-publicized White House event.
With a simple brute-force attack, that would take 29 minutes, Kamkar said. To begin reducing that time, he eliminated the retransmission of each code, bringing the time down to about six minutes. He then removed the wait period after each code is sent, which reduced the time even further, to about three minutes. Looking to further reduce the time, Kamkar discovered that many garage door openers use a technique known as a bit shift register. This means that when the opener receives a 12-bit code, it will test that code, and if it's incorrect, the opener will then shift out one bit and pull in one bit of the next code transmitted.
Kamkar implemented an algorithm known as the De Bruijn sequence to automate this process and then loaded his code onto a now-discontinued toy called the Mattel IM-ME. The toy was designed as a short-range texting device for kids, but Kamkar reprogrammed it using the GoodFET adapter built by Travis Goodspeed. Once that was done, Kamkar tested the device against a variety of garage door openers and discovered that the technique worked on systems manufactured by several companies, including Nortek and NSCD. It also works on older systems made by Chamberlain, Liftmaster, Stanley, Delta-3, and Moore-O-Matic.
The patent adds that making the device look "cute" should encourage even the youngest members of a family to interact with it. But Mikhail Avady, from SmartUp, said he thought it belonged in "a horror film", and the campaign group Big Brother Watch has also expressed dismay. "When those devices are aimed specifically at children, then for many this will step over the creepy line," says Avady. "Children should be able to play in private and shouldn't have to fear this sort of passive invasion of their privacy."