Finnish scientists communicate via smartphones’ compasses

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for anything that makes me feel like I might one day be a little bit like Sydney Bristow or Veronica Mars, but my first response to reading that Finnish scientists used Android phone’s in-built compasses to send encoded messages to each other was, ‘Why?’ I mean, we already have WhatsApp. But it turns out they had good reasons.

The University of Oulo researchers used a magnetic field to transmit encoded messages to a phone, which in future could make wireless payments more secure. Currently, this type of payment system uses near field communication (NFC), a radio signal which can transmit information for up to 20 centimetres, but the Finnish magnetic system would only allow data to be sent within two centimetres of a payment terminal.

Head researcher Kostakos Vassilis also says that this could be an alternative to QR codes in future, as the data transmitted to a magnet in a street ad could be regularly changed, without the need to print new posters.

It’s not yet sophisticated enough for widespread data handling, but the team plans to continue working on their protocol and say that they’ll reveal further details about its use later this summer. Hopefully feeling more like a TV super spy is at least on the agenda.

Image via Kārlis Dambrāns’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley