Researchers create free app tracking social distancing in Greater Memphis Area

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Many of us know the phrase “there’s an app for that,” and now there’s an app to track your social distancing.

The new tool was created by researchers with the MD2K Center for Excellence, which is a consortium of 11 universities and university medical centers, headquartered at the University of Memphis. The group spent the last two weeks developing the app and in the tech world, that’s not a long time.

The new app is called mContain and it’s making this process a little bit easier.

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“It will measure your individual encounters,” said chief software architect Dr. Tim Hnat. “So every day, this number will update and you can effectively measure yourself almost like a step counter. You can have your own social distance score.”

The app uses smartphone and Bluetooth technologies to detect encounters that happen within 6 feet for several minutes at a time. mContain can also send you a message about possible exposures to individuals who may have COVID-19.

“What we’re doing at this point is when you enter a crowded area and our algorithms pick that up, we will send you a message the next morning saying by the way you visited two or three crowded areas on this particular date,” Hnat said.

Researchers told FOX13 the app doesn’t collect any personal information about you like your name, email or phone number.

“And it tells you very clearly what kind of information it’s going to collect from you and about you and in particular with it being location information and where it’s stored,” Associate Director of Research & Studies Shahin Samiei said. “We store it in our center, with our team at the University of Memphis, and not sharing it.”

The researchers said the more people who use the app, the more information they can share to help reduce the chance of community transmission.

“What it allows for is a quantifiable, a number, something you can look at a map and see a real measure how people are socially distancing or socially crowding and that allows for the entire community to make informed decisions about what to do,” said Samiei.

The app is available right now for Android but iPhone users will have a wait a little bit longer.

Once they get 1000 users in the Mid-South, researchers said they will update a public map online with their findings.

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