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Smartphone-facilitated human compass study

To figure out if humans' internal compass senses agree with each other and what the factors influencing them are
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Inspired by [lurch]'s annotation on Magnetosensitivity in humans ([link]) I thought it would be interesting to do a study of how people's internal compasses agree and disagree with each other and with a real compass both over space and over time.

An app periodically asks the user via a notification what direction they think is north. (The user can also voluntarily submit data whenever/wherever they want.) This is indicated by an arrow on the screen; the user rotates the phone so that the arrow points in the direction they currently feel is north, and then taps to confirm. The app also asks the user whether they're currently indoors, outdoors, in an enclosed vehicle, or other.

It then displays a real compass (using the phone's magnetometer, like compass apps generally do) to show the user which way is really north, with an indicator on the compass to show which way they thought was north. ('Real' north, obviously, must be compensated because the magnetic pole and the geographic pole don't coincide; GPS or other location data from the phone can be used to do this.)

The app also records the local magnetic field parameters, as well as ambient light, noise level/spectrum, recent motion/vibration, and the angle at which the user held the phone. These are all reported to the researchers. (It might also be interesting to record biometric data like heart rate and walking pace, which could be facilitated by a smartwatch or fitness tracker, or just by using the phone's camera and IMU.)

The researchers, using data mining techniques, evaluate the correlation between different users' internal compasses at different locations on the map. Areas of high correlation and areas of low correlation may be interesting places to survey magnetic fields, light levels, sound levels, etc. in more detail to see if any of these is likely to be the cause.

People could, perhaps, be enticed to participate by gamifying it such that they can compete with other users to have the most accurate internal compass. However, they could just use a separate compass to cheat. Therefore, I think it would likely be better to just run it as a thing where users participate because they want to contribute to science, or by paying users a small amount per useful reading (somewhat like Google Opinion Rewards does).

notexactly, Jul 22 2016

[lurch]'s annotation Magnetosensitivity in humans
Mentioned in idea. Search the page for "135". [notexactly, Jul 22 2016]


       This could be interesting inside caves or big basements like the Chrysler tech center or the Pentagon.   

       May have to be done in someplace other than the user's home turf. Most people know their local directions.
RayfordSteele, Jul 22 2016

       I like the idea a lot, but I don't think it will work at all.   

       Humans may be magnetosensitive but, if they are, the sense is pretty weak (at least in most people). For that reason, attempts to confirm or deny the existence of this sense have to be exquisitely well controlled to identify a weak signal against a large background of noise plus non-magnetic directional cues.   

       You almost certainly _would_ find a strong sense of northness using this method, but most or all of the signal would be non- magnetic. For instance, if you can see the sun (or have seen the sun, and have a vague recollection of turning left twice on your way into a building), you will have a strong idea of where north is. If you've driven somewhere by SatNav, or using a map, you'll have a rough idea of where some major features are. Even if you've heard today's weather report, you'll have some subliminal idea that the cold wind hitting your face is coming from the East. In fact, there are probably a dozen known and unknown non- magnetic environmental cues to northness, and all of these would swamp any magnetic cues.   

       Sadly, this is one case where the average of a huge amount of data will not give you a reliable answer. The only good way to test for magnetosensitivity is to put people in a closed room, soundproofed against noise from that airport to the West, blindfold them, turn them around umpteen times on a rotatey chair, and then ask them to point north. So far, these tests have given only very weak evidence of magnetoception in humans - far weaker (at best) than that of, say, migratory birds.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 22 2016

       What would happen if you did it on one of the poles?
RayfordSteele, Jul 22 2016

       One of the Ukrainians might be just as good.
pocmloc, Jul 23 2016

       Yes, but then all you know is that you're facing the sign.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 23 2016

       // You almost certainly _would_ find a strong sense of northness using this method, but most or all of the signal would be non- magnetic. //   

       That's fine. I only want to see how people's senses of direction agree and disagree, whether that's for magnetic reasons or not.
notexactly, Jul 25 2016


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