New software takes advantage of smartphones’ GPS and imaging abilities to pinpoint the location of distant objects as well as monitoring their speed and direction.
It could allow soldiers to target the location of their enemies using only a phone - or, closer to home, help golfers judge the distance to the green.
"The great advantage of a smartphone is that it provides so many tools in a single, readily available, relatively inexpensive package," says Qia Wang of the University of Missouri.
"For example, on the battlefield, a soldier needs a rangefinder, compass, GPS and other tools to do reconnaissance before calling in an air strike. With our software, the soldier can have all those instruments in one device that can be purchased off the shelf."
When the size of the target is known, a single image is enough to pinpoint the target’s location. The software works out the latitude and longitude of the target using the smartphone's GPS and compass, andthe relative size of the target in the image compared to its known real-life size.
If the exact size of a target is unknown, the software uses two images to triangulate the location of the target. And, by taking a short video of a moving target, the software can calculate how fast the target is moving, and in what direction.
"Currently, our software is limited by the physical abilities of smartphone hardware, but the devices are improving rapidly," says Wang.
"We anticipate that improvements in GPS accuracy, battery life and camera resolution will allow our software to make even more accurate observations."