Your small and handy smartphone is capable of solving bigger problems

-By Lalit Koundaal

If human beings are the best creations of God, then Smartphones are the best creation of human beings in a decade. In the present day, scenario smartphone is a prized possession; we are not scared of anything but of losing connectivity through social media apps Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter to name the prominent ones.

Mobile Devices have manifested almost everything (entertainment, news, banking, workstations) in their versatile utility. These devices are built using the best of technology and advancements known and sundry have been invented just for these devices based on the need to make devices unbeatable. Coupled with embedded sensors and modern technology, there is an ever-increasing penetration of smartphones. This makes it an attractive technological device for various other uses, surprisingly enabling continuous and remote monitoring of an individual’s health and wellbeing with negligible additional costs, a tool for scientists/research scholars, and solving social issues.

Evolution of Smart Phones-

Ericsson was first to officially use the term ‘Smartphone’ for the Ericsson R380 in the year 2000. The major progress in the display, sensor, and battery technologies together have paved the way for wide acceptance of smartphones and tablets, enabling seamless internet connectivity and entertainment.

The popularity of Smartphones has grown over the past decade and by 2021, the global penetration of smartphones is expected to surpass 3.8 billion. Modern-day smartphones come with several embedded sensors such as a high-resolution complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor, global positioning system (GPS) sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, ambient light sensor, and microphone.

Evolution of smartphones and smartphone-embedded sensors over time Cr: Researchgate

The succeeding paragraphs are about the use of smartphone sensors to reach the next level –


Wouldn’t you like to know what’s behind the wall before drilling a hole? Having known that how the pipelines/ electrical conduits are spread over the walls, major damages could be avoided. Existing methods that intend to address this issue are either costly due to the use of high-end technology. SmartScanner makes full use of in-built sensors, namely, the accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer to achieve this goal inexpensively and conveniently. Specifically, by combining these sensors, we can clearly distinguish certain objects inside a wall and map out the layout of an in-wall pipeline system…

Skoltech scientists use smartphone gyroscopes to sync time across devices

Skoltech researchers have designed a software-based algorithm for synchronizing time across smartphones that can be used in practical tasks requiring simultaneous measurements. This algorithm can essentially help turn several devices into a full-fledged network of sensors. The research paper was published in the journal “Sensors”.

The Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) is a private graduate research institute in Moscow, Russia. Established in 2011 in collaboration with MIT, Skoltech cultivates a new generation of researchers and entrepreneurs, promotes advanced scientific knowledge, and fosters innovative technology to address critical issues facing Russia and the world.

The research paper had the following highlights included-

-If you want a network of intelligent devices -say, an array of cameras capturing a dynamic scene or another kind of network of sensors to work properly, one of the fundamental tasks you have to solve is clock synchronization: all devices should have the same timeline, often up to sub-millisecond for the more challenging tasks. Modern smartphones can easily be used as multipurpose sensors tied into a network, but they lack the interface for hardware clock synchronization, especially in environments where GPS, which can also be used as a global clock, is not available. And due to all non-atomic clocks slowly but inevitably drifting, they have to be periodically resynchronized.

-Smartphone networks can work as microphone arrays to capture sound waves and gather more information about not just sound but also direction. This is useful for noise cancelation techniques.

-Microphone arrays can also be used for what’s called sound-based trilateration: a user’s smartphone produces ultrasound, and an array of other smartphones receives this signal. By the delay between received signals, one can determine the position of a user.

-You can also use this technique for soft-synchronization of mobile phones with hardware-based systems. One example is a flash in cameras; with our method, any mobile phone could become part of a professional photography system.

-Faizullin, Ferrer and their colleagues from Skoltech and Saint Petersburg State University developed a clock synchronization method based on micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) gyroscopes, now installed in every smartphone. They were able to design an algorithm that, in experiments with two smartphones capturing simultaneous photos, showed better performance than existing synchronization software, achieving an accuracy of several microseconds.

For future research, the team decided to apply their method to systems that include not just smartphones but other sensors such as lidars, depth cameras, and so on.

Smartphone sensors used for health monitoring:

The smartphone sensors can be used to measure several health parameters such as heart rate (HR), HR variability (HRV), respiratory rate (RR), and health conditions such as skin diseases and eye diseases, thus turning the communication device into a continuous and long-term health monitoring system. Table 1 presents the health parameters and conditions that can be monitored using current embedded sensors of the smartphone. The data that are measured by the sensors can be analyzed and displayed on the phone and/or transmitted to a distant healthcare facility or healthcare personnel for further investigation over the wireless mobile communication platform such as 3G, high-speed packet access (HSPA), and long-term evolution (LTE).

See the table below to know how Smartphone sensors can be used for health monitoring-

Smart Phones for good causes-

Helping the Blind-

To bring sight to the blind, Be My eyes is a free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call. Whenever blind or low-vision persons need assistance, they can connect with volunteers through Be My eyes app and solve a problem. The volunteer will help in guiding which direction to point your camera, what to focus on or when to turn on your torch. A blind or a low-vision user may need help with anything from checking expiry dates, distinguishing colors, reading instructions, or navigating new surroundings. In case, the selected volunteer is in the middle of something, the call gets transferred automatically to the next available volunteer.

Improving Your Neighbourhood-

SeeClickFix, with its tagline “Better Communication, Stronger Communities” is a communications platform designed to allow citizens to report non-emergency issues for governments and local authorities to track and manage. The issues include sightings of potholes, graffiti, and inoperative traffic lights. Other residents can even put in their two cents on reported issues to highlight particularly urgent problems. The ultimate goal is to provide the best tools for residents and governments to communicate effectively in their communities. According to the developers, 75 percent of the issues reported get resolved and, although the success of the app has varied depending on location, many users have reported that it does work, as small changes in their community have added up over time and made a big difference for the people living there. Their website reports 7,081,112 issues fixed and counting as of 21 Feb 2021.

Folding Proteins-

Proteins are biological macromolecules that perform a multitude of functions in the human body including catalyzing metabolic reactions and forming the building blocks for tissues like skin and blood. Depending on their function, they can fold themselves into literally billions of different shapes, but, when the folding process goes awry, that’s when debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s can arise. The problem is that scientists don’t quite understand exactly what causes protein folding errors in the first place — which is where you and your handy smartphone come in. By downloading and running the Folding@Home app from Sony, researchers at Stanford University can take advantage of your smartphone’s processing power to help them carry out the millions of complicated calculations required for protein behavior investigation and analysis. The app uses Wi-Fi and, while it never tracks any personal data, performing all those in-depth calculations can be quite taxing on a phone’s battery — so make sure you plug your phone in or have a charger handy when you use it.

Ensuring physical fitness-

From weight loss, to reversing lifestyle conditions HealthifyMe has transformed millions of lives. This app has 20 million subscribers and the CEO of HealthifyMe calls it a drop in the ocean. According to him, 20 million in a country of billions is nothing. There is more penetration required. Indian obesity has doubled between 2005 – 2015. India has gone up from 14% to 29% and Indians are becoming diabetics, hypertensive. HealthifyMe aims at reversing all these problems and getting to 100 million users and gradually to Healthify all of India.

Conclusion –

Smartphones have become increasingly popular among scientists from Scoltech to app developers to utilize the versatility of the technology used on smartphones. This appears to be only the beginning because the out-of-box thinking has just started taking shape. In the days to come, we shall see a much larger use of smartphones for their in-built sensors/technology. The evolution of smartphones is a man-machine story that is no less than a proud and grand story. Machines should always be utilized to the fullest and this is what this article brings out vociferously.




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