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New app for personal tracking of social distancing in the Memphis area

Goal is to reduce community transmission of COVID-19

social distancing app

New app tracks social distancing in the greater Memphis area.


April 10, 2020

Researchers at the MD2K Center of Excellence, headquartered at the University of Memphis, have launched a free mobile app called mContain to help track social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak. The goal of the National Science Foundation-funded work is to reduce community transmission.

mContain uses location and Bluetooth technologies in smartphones to detect proximity encounters (within 6 feet for several minutes) with other app users. The app counts and displays the number of daily proximity encounters with other app users, similar to a step count.

To reduce the chance of entering a crowded place, the app displays the level of crowding at busy places on a map. If a user and his or her COVID-19 test provider agree to share the results of the test, the app can notify other users about possible exposure.

"mContain adopts an anonymous unicast approach to preserve the privacy of all app users, while still providing personal alerts," said MD2K's director, Santosh Kumar. After installing the app, no action is needed from users. The app does not collect nor keep any identifying information on app users, such as their names, phone numbers, logins, or emails.

"The app minimizes battery consumption by using Bluetooth and location data sporadically," said MD2K's Chief Software Architect Timothy Hnat, who led the software development for mContain.

The mContain app builds upon MD2K's successful open-source software platforms used widely in scientific studies. Computer algorithms developed by researchers at the MD2K center detect encounters and generate anonymous alerts.

To increase awareness of social distancing in the community, the mContain public website displays the level of social crowding at busy places.

The free mContain app is available at the mContain website and via the Google Play Store for Android devices, with iOS and Apple App Store access to follow shortly.

--  NSF Public Affairs, researchnews@nsf.gov