CRAYFIS Hijacks Our Cellphones For A Worldwide Cosmic Ray Detector

Although scientists have known about Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays (UHECRs) for years, nobody can pinpoint their origin. When these UHECRs hit the ground, however, they cause a widespread local disturbance called an air shower. This air shower is a wide dispersion of photons, muons, and electrons at sea level. The means of observing this air shower mandates a widespread geographic region for detecting them. One solution would be a very big detector. Physicists [Daniel] and [Michael] discovered an alternative to pricey hardware, though. By leveraging the CMOS sensors in our smartphones, they can borrow some CPU cycles on our phones to create a worldwide detector network.

According to their paper, the CMOS camera in our smartphones is sensitive to the spectrum of radiation induced by muons and photons from these air showers. With an app running on our phones, [Daniel], [Michael], and other scientists can aggregate the data from multiple detections in a similar region to better understand their origins.

If you’re concerned about CRAYFIS taking away from your talk or web-browsing time, fear not; it runs in the background when a power source has been detected, hopefully, when you are asleep. It’s not the first time we see scientists tap into our computing resources, but this is certainly an achievement made possible in only the last few years by the sensor-loaded smartphone that charges on many of our night stands. With over 1.5 billion smartphones active in the world, we’re thrilled to see a team cleverly leveraging a ubiquitous and already-well-distributed resource.

via [NPR]

20 thoughts on “CRAYFIS Hijacks Our Cellphones For A Worldwide Cosmic Ray Detector

  1. Honestly, what they should do is take advantage of NSA paranoia and run a similiar program for people who like to keep their webcams covered. After all, in order to detect cosmic rays reliably the camera needs to be in the dark.

  2. “I have more questions” on the About page leads to the FAQ page, which barely answers anything since it mainly repeats, or links back to, answers given on the About page. They didn’t anticipate someone might have real questions? Wonder what kind of data is collected? Whether it’s just a few pixel locations and intensities, or complete images? What kind of bandwidth one might expect it to use? Pfft.

    1. Pft.
      Google always has good stuff. Letting me play Pac-man on any set of roads in the world is very nifty imho.
      Netflix putting up PSAs against binge watching also gave me a chuckle.
      Oh, and CERN claiming to have found “The Force”.

  3. It’s on NPR it has to be real. Don’t forget Garrison Keillor’s joke about what happens when you take the H out of fish!
    If SETI at home, why not web cams and cellphones on standby.
    I always wondered why the low lux cams on the space shuttle had those sparkles.

    1. The difference is obviously that SETI@home is not interested in your location. CRAYFIS is. The problem for CRAYFIS is to convince people that they will make sure the privacy-sensitive part of the information will stay private from now until eternity. For instance, to make sure that the NSA does not link into the information stream and use the info for their own purposes. Or any other organisation for that matter. But with current laws CRAYFIS will never be able to guarantee that. In fact, it’s rather probable that a few weeks or months after they go online, they will receive a letter from the NSA, telling them that they have an obligation to serve their country and to give access to their information.

      1. Considering how many people now have a few old android/iPhones laying around after an update, simply installing the app and putting it on home WiFi to do nothing but detection is a good option. Tape the camera lens. No other apps installed. No private data. Just an old phone cranking out sensor data.

        1. I have a half-baked idea that BOINC platform could be extended to allow usage of hardware (microphones, cameras, MEMS sensors, etc) in addition to computing resources. The result is multi-use sensor packages for doing things like earthquake detection or whatever, distributed all over the place.

  4. According to the 2 professors in California (Whiteson and Mulhearn) who “allegedly” invented this the smartphone app doesn’t start if the camera is not face down. So it never records video from camera (per se). It also detects if connected to GPS, external power, and to Wi-FI. Why not 3G/4G connection too? Why just Wi-Fi. Maybe because of your router’s IP address helps identify your home location via your ISP (and a national security letter sent to them)? You also must supply your name and email address to join. So smartphone camera access automatic permission is indicated here. Does that also include the microphone? No? Think again.

    They say they discovered this idea in a pub over beer in Geneva Switzerland while visiting the LHC at Cern. My question is how do you just stumble on such detailed electronic knowledge when your specialty is astrophysics? You have to know how to bypass the smartphone’s image filter processor that rejects cosmic ray interference to the CCD. It can be done and is a very good idea. However, the paranoid crowd here may be right. This may be a pet-project of not “no such agency” in Maryland. Try the DS&T geeks in northern Va. Dr. Mulhearn attended college at UVa. Guess who a senior fellow and lecturer is at that school?

    It would also make a great “big brother” app that you voluntarily download and identify who you are. I mean when they first discovered this mysterious cosmic ray UHECR anomaly at Dugway they where using very sophisticated detection equipment. True CERN uses CMOS technology for their detectors too, But this seems a little odd. For GPS to work effectively in a house or building your smartphone would need to be near window with exposure to sky. And why Wi-Fi? Why not cellphone data connections too (3G/4G)? This app sounds like it is very sophisticated. More than your run-of-the-mill smartphone app. Sounds like something way over the heads of a bunch of astrophysics geeks in California (and 1 in NYC) like The Big Bang Theory. Maybe Sheldon and Howard could do it but not Whiteson and Mulhearn (nor Raj Koothrappali the show’s astrophysicist)..

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