Researchers at the University of St Andrews are working on new form of smartphone technology that essentially allows smartphones to recognize a surface when they are laid face down on it. The technology makes use of a program called 'SpeCam' which seems to be representative of the main core functions needed for the program to run, cameras and multi-spectral light.
As SpeCam makes use of the front-facing camera, along with the display (which acts as a multi-spectral light source) to identify the surface. The way this works is when the phone is placed down against a flat surface, the display projects the colored light. Following which, the front-facing camera is then able to 'see' the light emitted and reflected back, which in turn can then be understood by the program. Of course, this method does rely on a database having been built-up to help determine and identify the correct color/surface association, but once done, SpeCam is then effectively able to determine the difference between different surfaces, including surfaces made up of different materials.
Which is where the endless possibilities for future smartphone usage start to become more apparent. As the researchers note that in addition to being programmed to recognize these different surface areas, smartphones could in effect, be programmed to respond with different actions during these instances. Essentially, placing a smartphone down on one surface initiates one action, while placing a phone down on a different surface (or material) forces a different action. Some of the possible actions suggested by the researchers include the ability to instantly play music when laid on a table, or act as a beacon for nearby friends. The information even goes on to suggest that actions could be location-triggered as well. So for example, a smartphone could respond one way when placed face-down at a surface at home, compared to when placed face-down on a surface in the office. At present, the technology is still only in a developmental stage and the information is currently only offered as more of an insight to how it could be further developed and used in the future. However, you can watch a basic demonstration of the technology in action in the video below.