A team from the University of St Andrews, Scotland and the Graduate School of Culture Technology and Department of Industrial Design in Korea have developed a special phone app.
They wrote in a paper published in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) journal: "SpeCam is a lightweight surface color and material sensing approach for mobile devices which only uses the front-facing camera and the display as a multi-spectral light source. We leverage the natural use of mobile devices (placing it facedown) to detect the material underneath and therefore infer the location or placement of the device.
"SpeCam can then be used to support discreet micro-interactions to avoid the numerous distractions that users daily face with today's mobile devices. Our two-parts study shows that SpeCam can i) recognize colors in the HSB space with 10 degrees apart near the 3 dominant colors and 4 degrees otherwise and ii) 30 types of surface materials with 99% accuracy. These find- ings are further supported by a spectroscopy study. Finally, we suggest a series of applications based on simple mobile micro-interactions suitable for using the phone when placed face-down."
The application will offer "several unexplored opportunities of interaction" such as being able to complete a specific action when placed on a specific surface.
They added: "Being able to determine the location of a device with high precision offers several unexplored opportunities of interaction: for example, a user could transfer information by placing a phone on a computer, or trigger specific applications on the device by placing it on a predetermined area of their desk and other furniture.
"In understanding where a mobile device is, prior work has attempted to determine the location of devices using a variety of sensing methods including light, sound, vibrations, radiowaves and images captured through micro-cameras. However, most of these methods rely on external hardware support and do not work with off-the-shelf devices. Moreover, although early work has showcased that it is possible to estimate the location of a device by determining the material on which it is placed, the feasibility was demonstrated only for a limited set of selected materials."