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Mobile Phones for Homebrew Sensors
Jamais Cascio, 14 Dec 04

phonehack.jpgElectronic sensors are an important part of knowing the world. Sensor technology is pretty remarkable these days, and useful components can be both very small and very inexpensive. Scientific research and culture hacking alike already take advantage of widely available, useful sensor tech. With a modicum of understanding about how to assemble electronic devices, any student or hobbyist could be a Junior Jeremijenko in no time!

Gizmodo points us to a Czech company called Bladox, which manufactures small circuit boards and software to plug into old mobile phones, turning them into accelerometer-based car alarms: when "unauthorized" motion is detected, the system will call the user via the old phone. While this isn't particularly worldchanging in and of itself, the idea of using old mobile phones as the communication element of home-built sensor devices is intriguing.

Bladox makes boards and software allowing for a wide variety of inputs; better still, their applications are all licensed under the GPL. With this hardware, pretty much any kind of low-power sensor system (temperature, location, motion, air quality, etc. etc.) could be hooked up. Rigging a mobile phone as part of a sensor system takes care of one of the critical elements of any such device: communicating results. As long as there's network coverage in the sensor location, the results can be sent to anyone in the world with a phone. And the sensor-phone would still have a phone number, allowing for calling in to get results as needed. There are numerous solar panel rechargers for phones, so keeping the battery topped up wouldn't even be a big issue.

The vast majority of mobile phone users discard their old phones long before they stop working. The fact that many mobile services "lock" the phones, making them only work with that particular service (unless unlocked, a sometimes tricky process), makes such a wasteful practice almost inevitable. There are millions of completely functional but ostensibly useless phones out there; you probably have a few sitting around your home (I know I do). While recycling is possible (and far preferable to just throwing them out, given the toxic metal content), there's something particularly appealing about reusing the phone in novel ways.

What would you make with a system like this?

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Comments

Do you mean licensed under the GPL, or GPS? :)


Posted by: Josh on 14 Dec 04

D'oh! I knew something didn't look quite right. Fixed.

Thanks.

Jamais


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 14 Dec 04

You can buy serial-to-phone data cables for many phones (certainly in the Nokia range), so the obvious thing (for me, at any rate) to use a phone for is a log monitor: as soon as the monitor detects an attack (or whenever something particularly interesting happens - your web server falls over, etc.) it uses the phone to send you an SMS.

Hm, with a camera phone you could do something like hook the phone up to your doorbell & have it snapshot whoever presses the buzzer.


Posted by: Frank Shearar on 16 Dec 04



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