Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Introducing: Funf In A Box

Its Funf... In A Box!

We're very happy to announce "Funf In A Box" - a new service that helps you create your own mobile sensing Android application together with a full setup for uploading data into a cloud-based server, and even being able to remotely configure the data collection parameters on the app  - no programming required! It can be used for easily creating data collection research experiments, as well as making it generally easier to collect your own data to understand yourself better (read: Quantified Self)
Funf In A Box is free and open source.

Step 1: Approve the app for Dropbox
Step 2: Put your Funf in that Dropbox
Step 3: Your data will flow into Your Dropbox

And that's the way you do it!

Read more after the break...

One of our goals with the Funf project is to help researchers conduct scientific studies and experiments that make use of rich data collected using mobile phones. In particular, we wanted to provide tools that would help non-programmer researchers and study managers in areas like psychology, sociology, the medical realm, many other areas that might benefit from this type of data.

Although our end-user sampler app, Funf Journal, already supported the option for a user to set up a remote server for data upload and remote configuration, you had to actually know how to set up a server, as well as configure your Funf Journal app to connect to that server. In addition, Funf Journal, as it is today, is not ideal for conducting research studies. For example, many times the investigator would like to collect data from multiple devices - in which case we wanted to make it easy to deploy the experiment application to these devices, enable setting up similar configuration to all devices, and finally aggregate all of the collected data in a single place. In addition, in such experiments the investigator needs to be the one controlling the configuration, so they might not want to open up the full configuration interface to the experimental subjects. These are all requirements that we ourselves had in our own research, and we wanted to make this process as smooth as possible for others.

Enter Dropbox, the file hosting service that uses cloud storage to enable users to store and share files and folders with others across the Internet using file synchronization. Files you save to your Dropbox will automatically be saved on all your computers, phones and even be accesible through a browser at your account on the Dropbox website. Dropbox is free (though not open source), extremely easy to set-up and use, and is always available. By integrating Funf with Dropbox's 3rd-party developer interface, we were able to eliminate the need for you to host your own data collection server.

However, there was still some configuration that needed to be done - you would have still needed to connect your Funf-based Android application to your Dropbox account, so that it would know where to upload the data - the data is uploaded to your own private account, not ours or anyone else's. So... we decided to simplify the process even further: We set up Funf In A Box as an online service where you enter the relevant details and it generates an Android app configured to your information.

But wait, there is more.
As long as we were at it, and as long as we're already creating, on the fly, a unique Android app that is linked to your personal Dropbox account, we thought - why not also help you set up a full experiment? So we did!

The Funf In A Box website asks you to fill in a form about your desired application - which will be used to build your unique Android app (See image below). You fill in some basic information on who you are, why you are collecting data, and what data you are collecting. Users who install your app will be able to see the information you provide, so they can contact you if they run into problems. You will also set up the default data collection configuration for your app - You can decide which sensors will be enabled as well as the rate at which the probe will scan. Remember as you are choosing that each probe has an impact on the phone’s battery life. More probes and more frequent scans will use battery faster, so you have to take that into consideration while designing your experiment. 

Funf In A Box: Android Application Set Up Form
Once you press the button to create your app, your unique experiment app will be generated, and automatically uploaded to a specific sub-folder in your Dropbox folder (with the same name you chose for your app). This folder will have the Android installation file (called an "apk" file) that you can install on the different devices participating in the experiment. In addition, the folder will act as the heart of your experiment. Under it there will be several other sub-folders: A data folder where all of the incoming data will aggregate at, a config folder that will host your configuration files (which you can modify and remotely update the configuration on the experiment devices), and a scripts folder where we include executable scripts to help you decrypt, merge, and transform the collected data.

What to do with the data from here? That's when our work ends and your work begins...

How to get started:

One thing before you start...
This software is still in beta and is itself experimental - so there are no guarantees it will work perfectly. It's not our fault if you do anything stupid with Funf in a Box. So, if you get in trouble or do something idiotic then don't come complaining to us. If you use it for research or otherwise, it is your responsibility to make sure you abide the law and the regulations of your institution and its relevant review boards (IRB).

As mentioned earlier, Funf In A Box, like the rest of the Funf project, is free and open source.  If you want to help us, please let us know of any issues and problems you run into, and let us know how you are using Funf! Please send any questions, comments or ideas, to funf (at)

If you do end up using Funf and would like to cite it in a publication, please cite the following Pervasive and Mobile Computing Journal paper. The full citation is: Nadav Aharony, Wei Pan, Cory Ip, Inas Khayal, Alex Pentland, Social fMRI: Investigating and shaping social mechanisms in the real world, Pervasive and Mobile Computing, Volume 7, Issue 6, December 2011, Pages 643-659, ISSN 1574-1192, 10.1016/j.pmcj.2011.09.004.


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