Cabe Atwell

July 23, 2013

3 Min Read
Apps Provide Useful Data Through Crowdsensing

A great wealth of information is accessible to everyone with a computer or smartphone, but not every question has an answer online. Questions about the condition of a region after a natural disaster may take a long time to be answered online, but a new method is tapping into the best sensors and communicators we have -- other people.

Crowdsensing is where a task or question is posed to strangers via the web in order to find an answer straight from them. Many popular social media services can now log -- automatically or manually -- the location of each user, and it is the goal of crowdsensing apps to use this info to ask people questions about their immediate environment.

This is the goal of an app developed by Shanghai incubator Diggerlab called MoboQ. Users of the app can ask questions about a specific location, and any user of Sina Weibo and a Twitter-like website can answer. The process is expedited by directing this question to 15 people who have "checked-in" at a specific location, like the laundromat on Main Street, using Weibo or Jiepang (a Foursquare equivalent). This specific program allows any one of the 400 million Sina Wiebo users to potentially answer, but to ask you must be a moboQ member. MoboQ is currently only available in China and there are currently 100,000 MoboQ users.

In the future, a similar service could prove invaluable to travelers and tourists, who could check in on events, restaurants, and even how fast the security line is moving at the airport.

Similar apps are in development that use crowdsensing as an approach to answer many different types of questions. The Common Sense app, developed by IBM, delegates the task of determining air quality to people with smartphones and simple Bluetooth CO2, NOx, and other air pollution sensors. Similar programs and strategies could be used to monitor sound pollution.

Another app, called CreekWatch, monitors the condition of local creeks and rivers by archiving data and information collected by regular people using their mobile phones. Measurements of water level, water clarity, pictures, and text messages about the debris and the creek's environment help keep an eye on the local environment.

qCrowd, an app developed by IBM's Jeff Nichols and colleagues, plans to create a similar network to that of moboQ but target Twitter users depending on their location. Facebook's nearby app and another new tool called graph search could also be used together to answer all sorts of questions, in real time using crowdsensing and crowdsourcing.

In the mean time, keep an eye on apps like qCrowd, CreekWatch, and Common Sense (among other crowndsensing apps) that require you to be the best scientific instrument you can be.

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About the Author(s)

Cabe Atwell

Cabe is an electrical engineer, machinist, maker, cartoonist, and author with 25 years’ experience. When not designing/building, he creates a steady stream of projects and content in the media world at element14,, MAKE ─ among others. His most recent book is “Essential 555 IC: Design, Configure, and Create Clever Circuits.

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