Store data in your body without cyborg modification
03:00 01 April 2011 by MacGregor Campbell
Floppy discs? Too 1980s. Thumb drives? Too easy to lose. Anyway, who needs a thumb drive when you can store data in your thumb? A new program called Sparsh lets you transfer files from one device to another simply by touching the screen – and you don't have to join the Borg collective first.
Transferring files from one computer to another is a major pain. Even cloud-based storage like Dropbox is still irritatingly complicated. Now Pranav Mistry of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has the solution. He gets that what we really want is to just pick up stuff from one machine and put in the other, as we do with a physical object.
Mistry has designed a system to make this as simple as it could possibly be. "The user touches a data item they wish to copy from a device, conceptually saving it in the user's body," he says. "Next, the user touches the other device to which they want to paste the saved content."
For example, say you look up the phone number for the local pizza place on your laptop. Normally you then have to type all those numbers into your phone; but if both devices are running Sparsh, you simply touch the phone number on your laptop's screen, then touch your smartphone's keypad. The system knows that what you have transferred is the phone number and automatically dials it.
It's like magic
Behind the scenes, the first touch copies the phone number to a temporary file in either a Dropbox or an FTP account. The second touch retrieves the data. This requires both devices to be running the software and for a user to be signed into their Dropbox or FTP account. It works for any type of data, be it a photo, an address or a link to a YouTube clip.
Right now Sparsh runs as an application on smartphones, tablets and other computers. But, Mistry says, "the ideal home for Sparsh is to be built into an OS, so that it can provide the copy-paste feature across all applications". He says it's currently possible to incorporate this into Google's Android mobile operating system and that his team has also implemented a browser-based version.
Sparsh was presented at the Computer Supported Cooperative Work conference in Hangzhuo, China last week. It is not known if it will work for Time Lords, or as a pleasurable cure for hay fever, however.
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