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ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2012) — Eighty-eight percent of Americans now own a cell phone, forming a massive network that offers scientists a wealth of information and an infinite number of new applications. With the help of these phone users -- and their devices' cameras, audio recorders, and other features -- researchers envision endless possibilities for gathering huge amounts of data, from services that collect user data to monitor noise pollution and air quality to applications that build maps from people's cell phone snapshots.
An over. view of the Charles Deering Library at Northwestern University. White dots represent photos taken by Ghost Hunter players who had been "soft controlled"; red X's represent photos taken and shared on Flickr. (Credit: Image courtesy of Northwestern University)
Researchers can't force mobile users to behave in a certain way, but researchers at Northwestern University have found that they may be able to nudge them in the right direction by using incentives that are already part of their regular mobile routine.
"We can rely on good luck to get the data that we need," Bustamante said, "or we can 'soft control' users with gaming or social network incentives to drive them where we want them."
To test crowd soft control, the researchers created Android games, including one called Ghost Hunter in which a player chases ghosts around his neighborhood and "zaps" them through an augmented reality display on his phone. In actuality, the player's zapping motion snaps a photo of the spot where the ghost is supposedly located.
Unlike a regular "augmented reality game," where the ghosts might be placed randomly, in Ghost Hunter the researchers are able to manipulate where the ghosts are placed; while some are placed in frequently traveled areas, others are located in out-of-the-way, rarely photographed locations.