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10 Crazy Things Your Smartphone Could Do

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We use our smartphones for everything from navigating and looking up restaurant reviews to sharing selfies and checking email and the weather. Some of us even use them to make phone calls. Turns out we’re barely scratching the surface of what we can do with these tiny yet powerful devices—which pack hundreds of times more computing power than the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Here are 10 amazing examples of how bright minds are putting smartphones to bigger use.

1. Function as a 3D scanner

Software developed by a group at the Institute for Visual Computing at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) allows you to scan a 3D object by moving your smartphone around it. A 3D model appears on the screen, showing you whether you missed anything, and the app can determine the absolute size of the scanned object. You could use this app to capture faces for a three-dimensional portrait or to copy real-world objects for later study or 3D printing.

2. Test for STDs

This smartphone dongle or attachment performs the functions of a lab-based blood test—specifically, an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)—to test for HIV antibodies and two types of syphilis antibodies. Researchers recently tested it in Rwanda in clinics that work to prevent mother-to-child-transmission and in voluntary counseling and testing centers. With an estimated manufacturing cost of $34 versus the $18,450 typical for ELISA equipment, this device could advance early diagnosis and treatment of these illnesses in developing countries.

3. Give you an instant eyeglass prescription

Smart Vision Labs created the SVOne, a pocket-sized device that measures refractive errors in the eye and displays a digital eyeglass prescription via smart phone. The company founders envision it for use by doctors with multiple offices or limited space and to serve patients who struggle with traditional machinery or have difficulties with mobility. Where it could really shine, though, is in developing countries where millions lack eye care. The World Health Organization reports that some 90 percent of the world’s visually impaired people live in low-income settings with no eye doctors available and that uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause of moderate and severe visual impairment globally.

4. Track your cholesterol

Engineers at Cornell University created the Smartphone Cholesterol Application for Rapid Diagnostics, or smartCARD, to test cholesterol levels. Users clamp the device, similar to a credit card reader, over the phone's camera then place a drop of blood, sweat or saliva on a test strip. Insert the strip into the device and voila, a built-in flash illuminates the strip and an app matches the image's color values and shows results on the phone. Currently, the test measures total cholesterol, but the lab is working on measuring LDL ("bad" cholesterol), HDL ("good" cholesterol) and triglycerides, as well as vitamin D levels. This app might make you re-think that double cheeseburger, eventually.

5. Assess your mental health

Dartmouth University researchers built an Android app that knows the smartphone owner’s state of mind. The app automatically measures sleep duration, number and length of conversations per day, physical activity, locations and time spent there, stress level, eating habits and more—24/7 and without user interaction. Computational method and machine learning algorithms on the phone then assess that data and make higher-level inferences about sleep, sociability, activity, and other behaviors. When 48 students carried phones with the app during a 10-week term, the data significantly correlated with their mental health and academic performance. The app potentially could be used to provide real-time feedback on campus safety and stress levels, identify students at risk, and assess the quality of teaching. It could also be used to monitor mental health, trigger intervention, and improve productivity in the workplace as well.

6. Help keep you sober

The Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System smartphone app, designed for patients with alcohol use disorder, provides audio-guided relaxation and sounds an alert if individuals stray near a high-risk location, such as a bar they previously frequented. Patients leaving residential treatment who used the app reported an average of 1.37 fewer risky drinking days—meaning more than four standard drinks for men and three for women in a two-hour period—than those not using the app. Patients using the app also were more likely to consistently abstain from alcohol.

7. Pilot your drone

An autonomous drone designed at the Vienna University of Technology navigates using the computing power in your smartphone. Drones are typically steered by humans or signals from an earthbound computer, but this one can negotiate completely on its own without external computer input. The smartphone camera provides visual data and its processor acts as the control center, coded in an app. The designers envision a number of possible uses: the device could be sent into a burning building to look around before firefighters enter, guide people in large and confusing areas, or inexpensively monitor illegal foresting. Don’t tell the paparazzi.

8. Pinpoint where gunshots originated

A team at Vanderbilt University's Institute of Software Integrated Systems turned an Android smartphone into a simple shooter location system. The Department of Defense has sophisticated, expensive sniper location systems that use dedicated sensor arrays to pick up on a firearm’s sonic signature. The smartphone version uses external sensors, about the size of a deck of cards, containing microphones and a processor that detects a gunshot’s acoustic signature and exact time. The processor sends that information to the smartphone, which transmits it to other modules and uses triangulation to pinpoint the origin of the gunshot. The system needs several participants, making it best suited for security teams or similar groups, such as SWAT officers...or lost hunters.

9. Alert you that the milk is spoiled

Researchers at MIT developed sensors that can be read by a smartphone to detect ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, cyclohexanone, and other gases. In the future, it could be used to monitor public spaces for explosives and other harmful chemicals, identify environmental pollutants, or detect food spoilage in warehouses. The sensors also could be used in "smart packaging" that detects spoilage or contamination in the foods you buy. Your next phone message could be from that old milk carton in the refrigerator.

10. Improve your hearing aid

This smartphone app could help improve the quality of life of people who use hearing assistive devices, including hearing aids, cochlear implants, and personal sound amplifiers. To remain small and low-cost, these devices typically use not-so-powerful processors. Smartphones, on the other hand, have powerful processors, large memories, microphones, speakers, wireless technology and long-lasting batteries, which can improve the performance of hearing assistive devices. For example, a smartphone could run sophisticated algorithms to distinguish background noise signals and enhance speech.

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There's a Simple Trick to Sort Movies and TV Shows by Year on Netflix
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Netflix is stocked with so many movies and TV shows that it’s not always easy to actually find what you’re looking for. And while sorting by genre can help a little, even that’s a bit too broad for some. There’s one helpful hack, though, that you probably didn’t know about—and it could make the endless browsing much less painful.

As POPSUGAR reports: By simply opening Netflix up to one of its specific category pages—Horror, Drama, Comedy, Originals, etc.—you can then sort by release year with just a few clicks. All you need to do is look at the top of the page, where you’ll see an icon that looks like a box with four dots in it.

Screenshot of the Netflix Menu
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Once you click on it, it will expand to a tab labeled “Suggestions for You.” Just hit that again and a dropdown menu will appear that allows you to sort by year released or alphabetical and reverse-alphabetical orders. When sorted by release year, the more recent movies or shows will be up top and they'll get older as you scroll to the bottom of the page.


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This tip further filters your Netflix options, so if you’re in the mood for a classic drama, old-school comedy, or a retro bit of sci-fi, you don’t have to endlessly scroll through every page to find the right one.

If you want to dig deeper into Netflix’s categories, here’s a way to find all sorts of hidden ones the streaming giant doesn’t tell you about. And also check out these 12 additional Netflix tricks that should make your binge-watching that much easier.

[h/t POPSUGAR]

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Trash Talk: 7 Ways to Recycle Your Tech Gadgets
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Our tech gadgets’ lifespans are short. New smartphone models come out at least once a year, and it’s easy to want the latest and greatest computer, gaming console, or 4K TV—without considering what happens to our used devices.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans generated nearly 3.4 million tons of consumer electronics waste in 2014 [PDF] and that only around 40 percent of that waste was recycled—the rest went to landfills or incinerators. The U.S. is also a top destination for e-waste from other countries [PDF]—and in turn, we export much of our e-waste to places like China and India. However, more manufacturers and recycling companies are now taking steps to ensure the e-waste they collect is handled responsibly.

To do your part, don’t simply dump the old model in the trash—use one of these methods to resell or recycle.

1. DROP IT OFF AT A RETAIL STORE.

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Home and office suppliers often have in-store recycling programs that offer cash back or trade-in options. For instance, Best Buy accepts everything from appliances to car GPS units. (Not all products are accepted, though, so check before you go.) Staples offers trades on phones and tablets and will also take most other electronics, from fax machines to shredders, for recycling. Take your rechargeable batteries and cell phones to Lowes.

2. HOST AN ELECTRONICS DRIVE.

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Work with your employer or a group to put on a tech recycling event. It’s easy enough for people to bring in old TVs, audio equipment, and laptops. Then, you can collect all the items over the course of a few days or weeks and recycle them in bulk with a local organization. A good place to start: the EPA's list of certified electronics recyclers.

3. TRADE IT IN.

Several sites allow you to swap used electronics for cash. These companies refurbish, resell, or recycle old devices. To get started, enter your device’s details to receive a quote, then ship it in using a prepaid label and get money via PayPal, check, or gift card. Amazon’s Trade-In service accepts phones, tablets, speakers, and gaming equipment, provided the items are in good condition; Gazelle takes smartphones, tablets, and Apple computers; and NextWorth buys back tablets, smartphones, and wearables.

4. DOWNLOAD LETGO OR GONE.

Of course, there’s an app for that. Letgo is a free mobile marketplace for a variety of goods, including electronics, and all you have to do is take a picture of your old computer or TV, upload it, and then communicate with potential buyers within the app. Gone deals specifically with used tech, and the app does all the work, including pricing and generating shipping labels, for you—which means you don’t have to limit your sale options to your local area or meet strangers face to face.

5. SELL IT ON CRAIGSLIST, FACEBOOK, OR EBAY.

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Go old-school: List your old electronics on Craigslist, Facebook’s Marketplace, eBay, or your local classifieds. It’s not uncommon to find people who buy and refurbish gadgets for resale or to repurpose parts—or parents looking for a cheap used iPhone or laptop for their child. This way, you can negotiate the sale price and get cash on the spot. While there’s no guarantee that the buyer will dispose of your old phone or tablet responsibly once they’re done with it, selling does give the device a second (or third) life and hopefully will replace the purchase of a new product.

6. DONATE IT.

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While a new phone or gaming console seems like a no-brainer to some, there are many who can’t afford to purchase tech gadgets at all—new or used. If you aren’t able to find a recycling or donation center locally, consider one of these mail-in donation options:

Computers and peripherals: Goodwill has a partnership with Dell called Dell Reconnect. The program takes old computers—and anything you can connect to them, from keyboards to scanners—and refurbishes them for resale. Any parts that can’t be fixed are recycled. The National Cristina Foundation connects consumers to local nonprofits that need computers, and the World Computer Exchange accepts most computer equipment through a local chapter or by mail.

Cell phones: Several organizations collect old cell phones to refurbish, re-sell, and recycle in bulk and then use the funds to support their programming. The National Coalition for Domestic Violence will provide a prepaid shipping label for your phone, laptop, or gaming system, as will Lifecell —the latter purchases Lifestraws for those who lack access to clean water. Cell Phones for Soldiers takes gently used phones to provide communication services to troops and veterans.

Gaming gear: AbleGamers, which provides accessible gaming technology to people with disabilities, accepts donations of used consoles and games via mail. Gamers Outreach and Charity Nerds will take your donated gaming equipment to children who are hospitalized.

7. SEND IT BACK TO THE MANUFACTURER.

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Many companies, including Apple, Dell, HP, and IBM, offer branded recycling programs, which means they’ll take back used devices, recycle them responsibly, and often give you a gift card or a credit towards the purchase of a new device. Take your Apple products to your nearest store or create a prepaid shipping label online. IBM facilitates shipping of its branded products to preferred recyclers in certain states. Because Dell’s recycling program is in partnership with Goodwill, their take-backs aren’t limited to branded devices.

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