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Nagasaki univ. team develops app for using public devices without touching them

Professor Toru Kobayashi explains how to unlock a door using smartphone app Chameleon at Nagasaki University's School of Engineering in Nagasaki on Dec. 16, 2021. (Mainichi/Atsuki Nakayama)

NAGASAKI -- An app enabling remote control of public devices using smartphones has been developed by a Nagasaki University research group looking to cater to people who do not want to use touch screens handled by unspecified numbers of individuals out of coronavirus infection concerns.

    Under the system, when a user brings their smartphone close to a public device, its operation screen displays on their phone. The research group plans to first introduce the system to automatic certificate issuing machines on the Nagasaki University campus.

    The app is called "Chameleon," a reference to the reptile's ability to change its body color to match the surrounding environment, because of its adaptability to a variety of devices from different manufacturers.

    Apps allowing touchless operation of vending machines and other devices have already been developed and put into practical use, but Chameleon's strength is that it does not require the download of a dedicated app to each device.

    In May 2020, Toru Kobayashi, vice president of Nagasaki University and a professor of information engineering, was asked by a local advertising agency owner if an ATM could be used without touching its screen. This led to the app's development for around a year and half.

    A screen for entering a PIN is seen displayed on a smartphone at Nagasaki University's School of Engineering in Nagasaki on Dec. 16, 2021. (Mainichi/Atsuki Nakayama)

    When demonstrating Chameleon to the press on Dec. 16, Kobayashi put a smartphone close to a "smart lock" that unlocks doors with a PIN. A PIN screen appeared on his phone, which he entered a code to unlock the door. To get the smartphone to communicate with the device it will operate, near-field wireless communication and other means are used.

    In preparation for a time where we coexist with the coronavirus, the university will replace seven automatic certificate issuing machines on campus with Chameleon-compatible printers by the end of the 2021 academic year. In future, Chameleon is expected to see use in nursing homes and medical facilities.

    But for Chameleon to become widely available, more public devices will need to be equipped with communications functions. Ensuring security when entering PIN for ATMs and door locks also is a challenge. For these reasons, the team hopes to improve and spread the app in cooperation with other universities and companies.

    If Chameleon sees wide uptake, it will save manufacturers from adding touch screens and other operating functions to public devices, and likely lead to reduced costs. Kobayashi emphasized, "It may open up new business possibilities."

    (Japanese original by Atsuki Nakayama, Nagasaki Bureau)

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