Smarter Smartphones With DASH7

One of the more exciting areas of focus or Haystack is the integration of DASH7 with smartphones.  It is abundantly clear that the command and control center for the Internet of Things is not some WOPR room in a hardened bunker at SkyNet, but rather smartphones with impressive computing firepower but also lots of potential room for newer and better comms capabilities like DASH7.  Said another way, the battle for the IoT will be won or lost on the smartphone.  I’ll explain how Haystack fits into this.

But first, i want to share my experience with an iPhone app called Carat.  (You can find it here on iTunes.)  It was written by a team at Cal that operates under the banner ” Algorithms, Machines, and People Laboratory (AMP Lab) in the EECS Department at UC Berkeley, in collaboration with the Department of Computer Science at the University of Helsinki.  Don’t know these guys, but I really like what they built.  In short, Carat runs in the background on my iPhone and measures which apps are sucking most of my battery life and gives me advice for how to kill apps I am not using that are, unbeknownst to me, draining that oh-so-precious battery life out of my iPhone.  Like many people, I find myself searching for an iPhone charger far too often and find myself with little or no power when it counts.  In fact, the importance of the call I am waiting to receive correlates inversely with the amount of battery life on my iPhone, or so it seems.  What seems to happen at least in my case is that I will invoke apps on my iPhone and then, silly me, forget to “turn them off”.  Until Carat, I never thought to turn my apps off, really.  So I was shocked to see how much juice Skype (which I had not used in weeks) was sucking, as well as several social discovery apps I am experimenting with now.  Foursquare, which I now use infrequently, was also draining battery more than I would have thought, as well as some photography apps and my phone’s camera.  With Carat, it tells me which apps are draining the most power (it excludes the obvious features like, say, my phone’s screen) in order of biggest to least offenders.  So now, I punch up Carat about once per week and get feedback on which apps I can shut down to improve battery life of my phone.

So why isn’t this process more automated?  Can’t my phone just “know” that I am not going to use Skype for more than 60 minutes at a time or that if I am traveling in my car I most likely am not going to be using photography apps?  Apparently, this is too Flash Gordon for the year 2012, though there are at least some baby steps taking place in addition to Carat.

One of the more interesting concepts we are seeing relates to the use of NFC to auto-configure a phone.  Sony, LG, and Samsung, for starters, are all shipping NFC tags with certain handsets that can be placed in various spots —- usually one for your home, one for the office, and one for your car —- and when you enter any of those locations you are supposed to pause and hold your phone next to the tag so it can reconfigure itself, based on some pre-set parameters.  For instance, upon getting in the car, GPS and Google Maps are invoked, but when i get to the office and tap on that tag, those features are disabled.  You can imagine all the combinations but needless to say, this is taking us in the right direction towards a “smarter” smartphone that has a better contextual idea of your particular situation/location/mood in order to make your smartphone a more effective tool/companion.  For most of us, our smartphones are among the most intimate things that we own and losing a smartphone causes no small amount of angst or panic.  So enabling this intimate companion of ours to be more “sensitive” is an important advance not just for the sake of convenience but also in terms of enabling entirely new types of applications or improving existing applications.

So while the NFC version of this capability is nice, privately we hear concerns from people who matter than people are either forgetting to “tap” on their tags or the whole idea of tapping is just not something that is easy to get used to.  The reconfiguration should just be automatic.  Effortless.  Passive.  Happening in the background.

Uniquely, DASH7 can be slipstreamed into next generation phones and tags without seriously disturbing the form factor of the current NFC tags (beyond adding a coin cell battery or, even better, a thin battery) and without disturbing the form factor of the smartphone (DASH7 can use basically the same silicon as NFC and the same antenna) nor its bill of materials (net BOM impact for a smartphone should be a few cents).  DASH7, in other words, can take us from the world of requiring people to “tap” when it’s not intuitive to a world of more effortless reconfiguration and even more.  Rather than tap, a DASH7-enabled autoconfig tag could sense your presence at short or long distance and automatically trigger the appropriate reconfiguration.

What the smartphone industry has yet to show us is the ability to morph the “personality” of my phone based on some of the same (above) variables like location.  When I am home, I want X wallpaper, Y ringtones, Z games, and my ringer set to vibrate.  And a special voicemail greeting.  And I want certain calls to go directly to voicemail but if my mom calls, I want that to come through and perhaps even ring my phone even if it is set to vibrate.  So this takes some of the simple reconfiguration happening today and puts the afterburners on to make a more engaging and ultimately satisfying experience between a man (or woman) and his smartphone.

And DASH7 really stands alone in its ability, as an open standard, to fill this need.  We sometimes are asked about whether Bluetooth could fill this need and the answer is only if you don’t mind losing several hours of battery life to do so.  To perform this auto-config function would require Bluetooth to be on at near 100% duty, which is a significant power drain.  Using Bluetooth (or WiFi) for this feature in order to preserve battery life is oxymoronic.

DASH7 also accomplishes this job with minimal privacy impact.  While keeping an Bluetooth or WiFi radio “open” and searching for other devices at 100% duty is not only a power soak, it’s also an opportunity for stalkers and hackers to identify you.  DASH7, on the other hand, operates with a “listen before talk” philosophy that massively reduces the privacy risks inherent in this application while doing so with just a tiny power draw.  So tiny, it could even use a solar cell on the “configuration tag”.

Haystack’s first “intro” package for developers includes a “dongle” for iPhone (pre-iPhone 5 30 pin connector) as well as a sample app for social discovery written in Qt.  This is the first of many products for the smartphone industry from Haystack and while autoconfiguring a phone is not part of the offering, it’s an opportunity for developers who want to enable this.

So the homework for next week is to mentally track how often you are plugging in your smartphone to recharge and how often you find yourself playing with the “settings” or “preferences” buttons on your handset and how making this automatic could improve your life, make you more productive, make you taller, etc.  If you are heavy smartphone user like me, I bet you’ll be surprised how much we’ve settled for what is now an antiquated way of doing things.




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