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RRC Alumnus Sparks COVID-19 Firestorm

If you didn’t catch yesterday’s social media firestorm over WattZapp, the phenomenally popular social distancing app, then you’ve missed it. Not only will you not find WattZapp in the App Store or Google Play, in an unprecedented social media backlash, any reference to the app has been purged from all major platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. Why? You could call it “social media distancing”.

Malcolm Ecks / Pixabay

Sunk by Success

Social entrepreneur, Malcolm Ecks, RRC alumnus and Heritage Group, member pivoted overnight from wunderkind to social media pariah thanks to his ingeniously novel phone app, WattZapp. Its unparalleled success is what, figuratively, ultimately killed Ecks. The premise was brilliantly simple: a phone app that senses a user’s proximity to other phones and, if within six feet, causes them to “zap” their owners into moving away with a painful electric charge. The shocking truth is, it provoked just the opposite.

“His track suit what?”

Instead of pushing people away, WattZapp actually brought them closer together, unintended consequences of the app’s random sparks. Consider the case of a Brandon jogger’s acetate track suit bursting into flames as he passed a dog-walker, or the fumes from nail-polish remover igniting in a Morden lunch room, or a zapped King’s Head waitress dropping a tray of Coronas on the heads of her patrons. Not surprisingly, bystanders in each case would flock to their aid.

Twitter COVID-19 policy (TechCrunch 2020/03/18)
Original TAPTIC-59A capacitor

It all started in 2017. Manufacturers started replacing the linear actuators in cellphones with versions of the more powerful Taptic Engine, “to bring a world of force feedback sensations to the user”. Linear actuators are what caused your old cellphones to vibrate on incoming calls. And though the technology was powerful enough to scare you half to death when you left your phone on a table and the vibrations seemed to shake the entire room, the Taptic Engine is in a whole other league.

Ever shocked someone after shuffling across a carpet in socks during the winter? That’s the “triboelectric effect“.

Ecks discovered that the tiny but powerful capacitors underpinning the Taptic Engine could be programmatically induced to similarly discharge a brief, but powerful, electric charge through the phone’s metal case. Plus, thanks to “push notifications” and Bluetooth, presto! Ecks realized that he could “push” a discharge command to any other phone within six feet (exactly the recommended COVID-19 social distancing gap!)

SmartPhoney Combustion

Unfortunately, WattZapp worked too well. Ninety-five percent of today’s smartphones come equipped with some version of the Taptic Engine. When activated, any such device coming to within six feet of an activated WattZapp phone will discharge a 10-15 milliamp shock. That may not sound like much, but it’s enough to cause significant pain or to ignite combustible materials. No surprise then, that the app has been withdrawn and any online references to it removed.

When asked to comment, Ecks wryly quipped, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

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2 replies »

  1. One of these not only gave me a butt burn, the charge wiped my credit card magnetic strips clean!

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