DeepShot syncs running apps between computer, phone

MIT grad student and Google employee develops a system that lets users transfer open applications between a computer and a cell phone just by pointing the phone's camera at the computer screen.

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2 min read

Yang Li, via MIT

Getting those Google Maps directions you're viewing on your PC onto your smartphone might soon be as easy as pointing the phone at the screen.

Tsung-Hsiang Chang, a graduate student at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and Yang Li, a Google employee, have developed a system that makes it much easier to transfer certain Web-based computing tasks between devices. To do this, one simply takes a photo of the computer screen that's showing the task. The phone then automatically opens up the corresponding application on the mobile device--at the corresponding stage of the task.

The same process can also work in reverse, moving data from the phone to a computer.

The system, called DeepShot, relies on the fact that many Web applications use a standard format, called the uniform resource identifier (URI), to describe their current states. A typical example of this is the link provided by Google Maps that transfers the exact current location or driving directions to another browser on another computer.

This link consists of a long string of symbols that contain URI-related information such as the addresses of the starting and ending points and codes that indicate their geographical coordinates and the approximate size of the map window. Though URIs are a common feature of many Web applications, the data contained in a URI can vary greatly and is sometimes harder to extract than in the case of Google Maps.

The DeepShot system consists of two pieces of software, one installed on the smartphone and the other on computers taking part in the communication. These two pieces work together to identify and transmit URI information between devices. Currently, the system works with several common Web applications, such as Google Maps and Yelp, and requires a minimal amount of additional coding to work with other Web-applications that use URI, since URI itself is a standardized set of codes. In principle, DeepShot can also work with off-the-shelf software, though it would require software developers to make some minor modifications to their code.

Chang and Li developed DeepShot last summer while Chang was doing an internship at Google, which now owns the rights to it. Google has not yet made the system publicly available, but when it does, you can probably stop e-mailing yourself addresses or driving directions. This is assuming you're not using the iPhone. The way it's designed, the iPhone's camera takes so long to get ready to take a picture that it would make the new system less useful in terms of saving time.