In this day and age, it seems like GPS (a satellite-based signal system) has made the good, old-fashioned magnetic compass a bit obsolete. In fact, you hardly have to notice which way is north or south anymore. Just pull out your phone, insert your destination, and let your handy-dandy GPS do all the work, right? Well, wrong, actually! In stationary devices, GPS does not provide pointing direction. Satellite signals can also get jammed or masked–for example, when trying to receive a signal underwater. Believe it or not, we still need magnetic navigation, and modern cell phones have magnetic navigation systems built into them. That’s helpful for helping you find the quickest route to the airport, but could those digital magnetometers be useful for taking reliable scientific measurements as well? That’s a question that CrowdMag aims to answer.
The CrowdMag project is conducted by the geomagnetism group of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). They study the ever-changing geomagnetic field of the earth, and strive to keep models updated so that information integrated into the navigation systems of smartphones, planes, cars, ships, etc., and GPS systems can tell which way is north (see, compasses aren’t passé!). They do this through large-scale operations on ships, observatories, satellites, etc. However, there are always gaps in coverage–both in time and space–so the NCEI created the CrowdMag app to see if they could crowdsource data from smartphones and fill in those gaps in geomagnetic data. As with all citizen science initiatives, the more participation, the better result will be found! Here’s what you need to know:
The app is available for both Apple and Android devices. All you need to do is download it to your phone, and share your magnetic data. CrowdMag does not access personal data on your phone (like your email, name, etc.) and data is stored in a secure, non-public database at the NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Boulder, C.O. This is exactly what is utilized from the information you share:
- Time of measurement
- Location accuracy
- Magnetic data from Phone’s Magnetic Sensor
- Phone’s model
The data taken from your phone will be used to assess whether or not crowdsourced data is accurate for use in magnetic field models, and will occasionally also be used for maps, mathematical equations, charts, etc., which is pretty cool! While you do not need to do anything beyond download and share your magnetic data, the app also includes some interesting graphs and info shared by other users, so you can have fun playing around with that as well! And hey, you really have a vested interest in this project: if you’d like your next phone’s navigation system to stop trying to take you through that pasture on your way home, without having to do much more than click a few buttons, with CrowdMag!
Photo Credit: Pixabay