Finnish research team explores magnetic communication system for smartphones

Mobile & tablets

by CBR Staff Writer| 07 July 2014

Pulse enables smartphones to talk through magnetic sensors

Researchers at the University of Oulu Department of Computer Science and Engineering in Finland have built a test electromagnet system called Pulse that uses the magnetic field sensor to enable smartphones to communicate with each other.

This is a novel way of communication as opposed to the 'regular' (3G, 4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) way in which smartphones are communicating.

Pulse uses the 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 data is encoded in the magnetic field, through which, information such as a web address and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) music sequence can be transmitted from the electromagnet to the phone. This is akin to an interactive street poster that could perform the job of a printed QR code.

Though the transmission rate is slow (only 40 bits per second), the research team says that it serves as a secure payment mode as it works only over a range of 2cm, in contrast to near field communications (NFC) radio signals which can read phones upto 20cm away, leaving them more vulnerable to cash thefts from hackers.

Pulse, according to its creators, is not intended as an outright replacement for NFC or QRCodes, but rather as a complementary protocol.

In their research paper, the authors said, "Pulse is ideal for short-lived and extremely short-distance data transfers. In payment scenarios, a short code can be transmitted via Pulse near a payment terminal to confirm or verify payment using a smartphone, by transferring a 64bit or 128bit authentication key, passcode or other token to bootstrap a higher bandwidth communications channel.
At a cash machine, Pulse can be used to transmit voucher information and balance information to the user's smartphone."

But these are early days for Pulse as industry is still watching out for potential applications.

The Finland university team plans to unveil more applications for the system at the annual ubiquitous computing conference, UbiComp 2014, in Seattle, Washington.

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