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‘Ghost Hunter’ application to help researchers collect data


The number of individuals who own a cell phone continues to increase, and the features on these phones such as cameras and audio recorders offer an experience for many people to capture memories. However, these devices also may benefit researchers, who are looking at cell phones as a way to collect a vast amount of data.

There are several sites that offer pictures of monuments and famous locations, but these compilation websites may not showcase the entire perspective of such places. Researchers from Northwestern University want to change that, while possibly monitor the noise and pollution of a certain area.

“Take the Lincoln Memorial, for example,” said Fabian Bustamante, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering. “Flickr has thousands of photos of the front of the Lincoln Memorial. But who takes a picture of the back? Very few people.”

The researchers created a game called “Ghost Hunter,” which essentially asks its participants to go around their neighborhood and “zap” ghosts. The game instructs the player on where to go and through an augmented reality on the phone, they are able to eliminate the imaginary ghosts through their mobile device. This also captures a photo of the location to be analyzed for research.

“We wanted to know if we could get the players to go out of their way to get points in the Ghost Hunter game,” Bustamante said. “Every time they zapped a ghost, they were taking a photograph of Northwestern’s campus. We wanted to see if we could get more varied photographs by ‘soft controlling’ the players’ movements.”

The Ghost Hunter in itself seemed to be enough to get people out there. The game is anonymous and only accounts for the person’s location and not their personal information. However, if it were to expand to a greater audience, the players would have to be notified that the results of the game were for research purposes.

The amount of data that a cell phone contains, including location and personal information, offers both its benefits and problems. Parents who want to keep an eye on their kids may want to purchase cell phone tracking software, as it can tell the location of the youngster and warn the parent if the child is participating in any inappropriate behavior.