Deus EM Machina Provides an “Inexplicable” Solution for Smartphone Interfaces

More and more we are moving to a society where “things,” be they lights, speakers, a TV screen, or innumerable other devices are controlled by a smartphone. This is normally accomplished via an app or web interface that, while it may work well, the user has to remember and load for different gadgets. Because of this difficulty, it may be easier for a user to simply flip a switch.

This prototype smartphone recognizes physical contact with uninstrumented appliances, then summons appliance-specific interfaces. (📷 Future Interfaces Group)

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group have been working on a solution to this conundrum, developing a system where you simply tap the appliance in question with your phone, such as thermostat, 3D printer, projector or door lock, which then loads the correct app or interface. Though you might assume this uses a series of near-field communication (NFC) tags or a similar platform, nothing is added to the controlled objects themselves.

Instead, it’s able to detect and respond to the inherent electromagnetic signature of individual devices. A normal smartphone is used for this, along with hardware controlled by an ARM Cortex-M4 MCU — described on page three of the project’s research paper.

Deus EM Machina can identify a device in real-time using its electromagnetic signature. (📷 Future Interfaces Group)

The system looks incredibly promising, given its potential to be integrated into a phone with no external hardware. Even in its prototype state, can sense objects with a 98.8% accuracy, likely better than your ability to remember or even correctly punch the correct app for object control.

Let’s also give these researchers credit for coming up with a clever pun on deus ex machina, a literary device where something appears out of nowhere, producing a solution to a very difficult problem. Easily controlling your refrigerator with a smartphone could certainly count as this type of challenge, though I’m not likely to give that story a 5-star review!

[h/t TechCrunch]

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