Scientists designed an app to help you not lose your phone

Have you ever lost your phone? We are unbelievably connected to these devices and yet sometimes we forget them. It’s ok if you lose it at home, but leaving it in a public place may lead to a complete loss. Devices can be replaced, but they usually store some important information and pictures that you definitely don’t want to lose. Now scientists at the University of Waterloo have developed an App, which can warn users when they are about to forget their smartphone. 

Smartphones can be incredibly easy to forget in various coffee shops and restaurants. Image credit: Blubb342582 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This new app, called Chaperone, uses active acoustic sensing to detect when the user of the phone is moving away and could potentially forget the device. If a phone detects signs that the owner could be potentially losing his or her phone, it will lock itself immediately and alert the owner using an assigned sound. Active acoustic sensing technology is basically a sonar, which follows the movement of the owner of the device. Additional hardware or even Bluetooth are not required for the function of the Chaperone.

Chaperone can now be installed on Android devices. The app emits an inaudible high-frequency acoustic signal and then detects the echo of that signal using its microphone. It may sound too simple to even work, but phones of today have pretty good speakers and microphones. Or at least good enough for this application – Chaperone can recognize changes in the echo and distinguish nearby moving people from static objects. It then extracts the owner’s moving pattern and reacts when he is about to leave his phone unattended. You’re probably thinking that it may be embarrassing if the phone starts blaring weird noises randomly in a coffee shop, but scientists say it is not going to happen.

Jiayi Chen, creator of the app, who once almost lost his phone like that, explained: “Because the alert is selected based on information collected by the trigger module, it’s tailored to the context. That means if environmental noise is low as in a library, a gentle ringtone would be sufficient to get the user’s attention.”

Chaperone is an open-source app, which means that it can be improved over time. For now scientists performed more than 1,300 experiments across different real-world scenarios and are happy to say that Chaperone is actually able to detect user leaving their phone.

Since the code is freely available on GitHub, scientists hope that other researchers will have a crack at improving this technology. It is definitely an interesting feature, which someday may come on new phones as standard. Obviously, we would like to see more experiments and data. For example, how does it perform in particularly noisy areas. And does it use a lot of battery resources?


Source: University of Waterloo

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