Neat Cell Phone Tricks
“Right now, a Masai warrior on a mobile phone in the middle of Kenya has better mobile communications than the president of the United States did 25 years ago. If he’s on a smartphone using Google, he has access to more information than the president did just 15 years ago.” – Peter Diamandis
I am going to date myself a little when I say that when I was in middle school, pagers came out and they were amazing. All of a sudden, I could know when someone wanted to call me even though I was out of the house. After high school, I worked at a kiosk selling cell phones, and had one of the first phones that included a camera. The pictures were terrible, but to take them at all was awe-inspiring. Today, we have iPhones and Droids, think nothing of checking our email or streaming a movie, and regularly ‘check-in’ at our favorite haunts just to say we were there. In less than a decade we went from being able to take pictures with our phones to being able to take HD pictures, upload them, tag our friends, and post them on Facebook. We can apply a few dozen special effects to our pictures, making them seem antiqued or fishbowling the lens at will. I am quite sure my cell phone now is faster than my first computer. Phones, however, can do so much more, and I want to highlight just a few of those things.
First, take a look at how quickly ‘smartphones’ have been adopted by the public. This report out of MIT shows that smartphones are, if not achieving, at least taking a solid crack at becoming the fastest adopted technology in history. Also of note, though a little outside the scope of this article, mobile computing in the form of smartphones and tablets is utterly destroying PCs. I have to think that it will not be very long before plugging your cell phone into your big screen to run video games is normal.
With such complete market saturation, and incredible advances in computing power, scientists have been able to make your average cell phone do some pretty amazing things. On the slightly trivial side, this app GeneGroove will take your genetic information and remix it into a tune for you. It’s a cutely packaged add-on for getting your DNA sequenced (at less than $100, no less) but does add that ‘personal’ touch to your playlist. By the way, while you are out with your iPhone, you might print it a new case with your 3D printer as these folks have (including my favorite, the iFrisbee).
Smartphones are not all trivial, however. For a mere $65, you can attach this SkyLight device to your smartphone, tack your phone onto a microscope (not included), and send pictures of whatever you are looking at anywhere in the world. Not a bad advance for cell phone cameras in the intervening decade. Indeed, this adapter allows doctors in rural areas to snap photos of what they are seeing in the microscope to specialists who can provide quick diagnostics, potentially saving lives. SkyLight is on board with that idea, donating one SkyLight adapter to schools or local health programs for every five purchased. Also, just yesterday SingularityHub reported that a start-up company, CellScope, is creating a device that lets you use your smartphone as an otoscope to check your kids (or anyone else, I presume) for ear infections. This device, however, includes a 10x microscope. Like the SkyLight, once photos of the inner ear are snapped parents can upload the photos to pediatricians for a quick diagnosis, sans an office visit. Don’t forget Google’s translate app either, which translates speech in real time, foregoing all that pesky ‘learning a language’ stuff (though the operation is still a bit bulky.)
Smartphones are also being used for surveillance in several different ways. The Kenya Ministry of Health recently used smartphones to collect answers to questionnaires posed by health officials to patients suffering from influenza (or similar symptoms.) Those answers collected on a smartphone were more accurate and were collected 72 times faster than traditional paper questionnaires. It does not hurt that the smartphone program was cheaper as well. In more traditional surveillance parlance, however, UT-Dallas researchers have created an imager chip that lets cell phones see through walls, wood, plastics, paper, and other objects. The researchers are excited about other advances possible using similar technology as well: “Terahertz can also be used for imaging to detect cancer tumors, diagnosing disease through breath analysis, and monitoring air toxicity.” Also, new for the Olympics, the London police are receiving 350 mobile fingerprint scanners that work with smartphones to identify the scanee in 30 seconds or less. Whether or not the fingerprint scanners will actually make the Olympics safer is one question, but that the police have the ability to scan fingerprints so quickly is pretty cool in itself.
Even smartphones, however, must go obsolete one day. All these add-ons to phones will keep them around a little longer (at least until we can package their functionality into implants.) For cell phone manufacturers, this is a good thing since U.S. Army scientists have been trying to figure out a way to beam voices right into people’s heads since 1998. There is a lot of lead-up in the link, but the article quotes from a U.S. Army report what I quote here in relevant part: “Because the frequency of the sound heard is dependent on the pulse characteristics of the RF energy, it seems possible that this technology could be developed to the point where words could be transmitted to be heard like the spoken word, except that it could only be heard within a person’s head.
In one experiment, communication of the words from one to ten using “speech modulated” microwave energy was successfully demonstrated. Microphones next to the person experiencing the voice could not pick up the sound. Additional development of this would open up a wide range of possibilities.”
Whether or not the technology is more efficient than Bluetooth remains to be seen.