How Phones and Computers Can Talk via Sight

screen shot 2014 09 16 at 1.54.40 pm
Credit: Screengrab

Just send an email to yourself.

Few moves in today's world of digital interconnection feel sillier. You need to get the file from this machine to that machine but for whatever reason, the only way to bridge the gap is via a self-addressed digital envelope. Annoying.

As more devices with new interfaces flood the market, that complication will only increase. Cloud storage services like Dropbox and Box have alleviated some of the annoyance, but recently graduate students at MIT's Media Lab developed an approach that is a lot less cumbersome.

The group's THAW Project, led by Philipp Schoessler and Sang-won Leigh, showed that by pointing a phone's camera at a computer's screen, they could transfer information between the two devices. Direct the phone at a file on your desktop and a replica of that part of the desktop appears on the phone; drag the file on the desktop to that portion and the file moves over to the phone.

"The first idea was seamless data exchange," Schoessler says. "Now you just drag the data into your phone -- this is the easiest way to get data from one place to another."

There's an important hitch, at least at this stage in the development: The phone is recognizing data -- pixels -- on the desktop's screen. The contents of the file are another matter. In the demo when a file drags and drops from one device to the next, only the image of the file is making the transfer.

"We didn't want to focus on the backend stuff -- just the interactions," Schoessler says.

Before it's useful, coders will have to tackle major issues like security and a logical transfer pathway for the files. For that, he says they're going to count on the developer community. The group plans to release the code on GitHub soon and see what app makers do with the new interface options. Perhaps contacts will be be dragged right out of a desktop client and dropped right into a phone, or salespeople will plop presentations right onto a client's meeting room computer from their phone.

Leigh says the application doesn't require altering components of the phone either, though the group has not tested it across all major devices. To set up the communication bridge the software simply removes the auto-white balancing. "That's the best part," he says. "You don't need to change the hardware."

Developments in the academic realm always take a time before they're running around in the wild, and the group has created their initial demo mostly focused around gaming. But any time we hugely streamline annoying hiccups between devices, the changes tend to show up sooner than later.

This story, "How Phones and Computers Can Talk via Sight" was originally published by CITEworld.

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