Tim Bichara

Scientists modify a smartphone, to be able to receive magnetic messages

Growing up, we were always told to keep magnets away from electronic devices lest you wipe their memory. This might soon become outdated advice, as scientists at the University of Oulu in Finland, were able to get a smartphone to receive magnetic messages.

“A system called Pulse uses the magnetic field sensor, or magnetometer, for the compass app in iPhones and Android phones, to receive messages in the form of a varying magnetic field produced by a nearby electromagnet.

The transmission rate is pretty slow – only 40 bits per second – and it only works over a range of 2 centimeters. But that has its own advantages, say Vassilis Kostakos and colleagues at the University of Oulu in Finland, who have built a test electromagnet system that communicated with Android phones to show that the idea works.”

So what does this mean for smartphones? Well for a start it won’t replace 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi or the long-range connectivity methods we have come to rely so much upon.
With a range of 2cm and a speed that makes the original dial-up connections look fast, you won’t be streaming YouTube videos with this anytime soon.

It could however be used to transmit website addresses in a manner not to dissimilar to QR codes, the difference being, while QR codes are static in their message, you could update the link the electromagnet gives.

The other use this could be used in, is improving the security of contactless payment with your phone. Currently small payments use a system called near field communications (NFC), to allow your phone to communicate with a shops PDQ machine. This system works within a range of 20cm, while that may seem small its still enough that if an eavesdropper device was within that radius, it could easily steal money from the phone.

Pulse would make this a lot more secure, as lets face it, if you can’t notice a suspect device within 2cm of your phone, you probably need your eyes checked.

Its still very early days for this magnetic messages technology, who knows what scientists may be able to make of this in say, 4-5 years. We’re looking forward to seeing what they can come up with.


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