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Your smartphone as a compass to the stars

A cheap and effective solution to pinpoint the heavens. Notice the smartphone hugging the telescope. Image credit: Celestron

I love to look at the heavens and I got a few apps on my iPad that help me identify heavenly objects. Sometimes I try looking with a tele-lens on my digital camera  but pointing it to a specific planet or star is quite difficult. There are a number of motorised telescopes using a computer to automatically point at the object of your desire, the only problem is that they need a deep pocket (and the set up is not that easy).

Celestron has come up with a very cheap and effective solution and guess what: it involves your smartphone.

The Star Sense Explorer series of Celestron telescopes comes with a smartphone dock that by coupling your smartphone camera to a mirror  the camera points at the same position of the sky as the telescope. You download their app -StarSense- on your smartphones and you are ready to go!

The app will recognise where the telescope points at that moment (by doing a pattern matching of the sky) and once you tell the app what you want to look at arrows will appear on your smartphone screen indicating how to move the telescope. As you get closer and closer to the desired point the arrows get more and more sensitive leading you, effortlessly, to the exact spot indicated by the bullseye (watch the clip).

I find this another amazing application of a smartphone, something I bet the engineers who designed the first cellphones would have never imagined.

Our smartphone is a general purpose computer and more than that is a computer equipped with sensors so that it can become aware of the environment. Image recognition (there is a bit of AI in that) is completing the circle.  The smartphone gives us tremendous power and at the same time it  gives innovators the possibility of delivering amazing feature at low cost since that kind of processing and sensing is not to be borne by their product but by the user (that in turns does not perceive it as an additional cost since we already have the smartphone…).
I find this the magic of the digital transformation, the possibility to leverage on an ecosystem of functionalities decreasing cost and increasing performances.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.