U of M developers create first-of-its-kind app tracking crowding in Shelby County

Updated: Apr. 7, 2020 at 5:46 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Developers at the University of Memphis have a way to let you know just how well you’re social distancing. One of the first-of-its-kind apps to track crowding has been released for people in Shelby County.

Developers at the MD2K Center of Excellence at the U of M said their app mContain works like our step tracker on our phones. Instead of steps, mContain lets us know just how close we’re getting to others during this pandemic in hopes to provide us information to make decisions about our health.

“As we have on our phones activity trackers that track how many steps we’ve taken or how long we’ve been active. That allows us to have one metric on our well being and that is activity,” MD2K Center of Excellence Associate Director of Research and Studies Shahin Samiei said. “Same with sleep trackers. This [app] allows people to have an awareness on social crowding or social distancing.”

“We developed an app from idea to download in a little over two weeks,” MD2K Center of Excellence Director of Operations Joe Biggers said.

And all that work to make an app to track social distancing was done while social distancing.

Leaders at the MD2K Center of Excellence at the University of Memphis said the city and county COVID-19 task force reached out to the university to create an app to track social distancing.

What was created is a unique app.

“We present [app users] information and it’s information that can inform them on their own health and wellness,” Biggers said.

The app detects how close an app user is to another app user. Right now the app detects app users about six feet apart which is the typical guideline for social distancing.

Then, the app user will get notifications about the locations they visited in a day.

“Any time you come into contact with a crowded area we will then let you know on this date you had five different crowded encounters,” MD2K Center of Excellence Chief Software Architect Tim Hnat said.

While similar apps have been developed around the world, Memphis developers say the privacy of mContain makes it one of a kind.

“One of the key things we put into the app is the component of anonymity,” Samiei said. “While we’re collecting location information that information sits in our center. It doesn’t go to a government, it doesn’t go to the police.”

Developers said there’s a chance to track possible COVID-19 exposure at a location. That data would only be available if the person tested and the testing agency both agree to give information to the app.

There’s a chance this app could grow, but for Memphis developers, Memphis is the focus now.

“All we’re trying to do is put out an app that will help people in our community and help them now,” Biggers said.

Right now the app is available for download on Androids. iPhone downloads are coming soon. You can find the mContain app here: https://mcontain.md2k.org/.

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