Accelerometers in Goodwin Hall

Goodwin Hall is rigged with 241 accelerometers that measure motion and vibration inside and outside the building, making it the world’s most instrumented building for measurements of vibrations. These sensors can detect any kind of vibrations: from footsteps, to sound, to earthquakes. There is no retention policy available for data collected from these sensors, and although the primary stated purpose is research, they can also be used for surveillance purposes.

When combined with data from the Hokie Passport system or surveillance cameras, individual people can be monitored as they enter or exit the building or rooms within the building, and thereafter tracked as they move throughout the building. This is made easier when there are fewer people in the building, and could be especially concerning for people who work late or odd hours.

As accelerometers detect sound, this installation is in violation of the Safety and Security Camera Acceptable Use Policy, which states that “no audio shall be recorded except in areas where no one is routinely permitted.” The Surveillance Oversight Committee does permit exceptions on a case-by-case basis, but it is unknown if this use was approved or not. In general, however, it is difficult to record distinguishable speech using an accelerometer.

Best Practice Recommendations

We’re not aware of any mitigations for accelerometers. Your best bet is to avoid Goodwin Hall, particularly at non-busy times when your movements can be distinguished from those of others.