From Common Science more on moving technology and live sensing into the real world… what if we are able to use our ubiquitous onboard computers to do more than increase the electromagnetic noise – but literally enable our survival in our increasingly hostile an poisoned world – while a bit old (2008) still a good description of a world still to come – the future that seed are now – for more up to date info see the website .
In this research we highlight an important new shift in mobile phone usage – from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement instrument”. We explore how these new “personal measurement instruments” enable an entirely novel and empowering genre of mobile computing usage called citizen science. Through the use of sensors paired with personal mobile phones, everyday people are invited to participate in collecting and sharing measurements of their everyday environment that matter to them.
Our research hypothesis is that this new usage model for mobile phones will:
- improve the science literacy of everyday citizens through active participation in basic scientific principles
- provide professional scientists with access to richer, finer-grain data sets for modeling and analysis
- create new experiences and usage models for the mobile phone as a tool for grassroots participation in government and policy making
- by choice of sensors and software create a deeper and more informed understanding and concern for our climate and environment - hopefully effecting positive societal change
Mobile phones are rapidly becoming the computer platform of choice in developed and developing nations. These mobile phones already shape our culture – collapsing space and time by enabling us to reach out to contact others at a distance, to perform just-in-time coordination of events, and to purchase, play, and game “on-the-go”. While there is a growing research space around sensor based activity inferencing and a wealth of existing location applications in the market, we claim that our mobile phones still fall short in their ability to enable us to measure and understand the real world around us.
We carry mobile phones with us nearly everywhere we go; yet they sense and tell us little of the world we live in.
Look around you right now.
How hot is it? Which direction am I facing? Which direction is the wind blowing and how fast? How healthy is the air I’m breathing? What is the pollen count right now? How long can I stay outside without getting sunburned? Is the noise level safe here? Were pesticides used on these fruits? Is this water safe to drink? Are my children’s toys free of lead and other toxins? Is my new indoor carpeting emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs)? Now look to your phone for answers about the environment around you. What is it telling you? For all of its computational power and sophistication it provides us with very little insight into the actual conditions of the atmospheres we traverse with it. In fact the only real-time environmental data it measures onboard and reports to you is a signal to noise value for a narrow slice of the electromagnetic spectrum (i.e. “how many bars do you have?
Certainly, one could imagine accessing the web or other online resource from their mobile phone to find an answer to some of these questions. But much of that online data is calculated and published for general usage, not for you specifically. For example, the official weather station for a city may report that the temperature is currently 23ºC by taking one measurement at the center of the city or averaging several values from multiple sites across town. But what if you’re in the shade by the wind swept waterfront where it is actually 17ºC or waiting underground for the subway where it is a muggy 33ºC. The measurement that means the most to you is likely to be the one that captures the actual conditions you are currently experiencing, not citywide averages.
Imagine you are deciding between walking to one of two subway stations and could gather live data from the passengers waiting on the platform at each stop about the temperature and humidity of each station at that very moment? What if you were one of the 300 million people who suffer from asthma and could breath easily as you navigated your city with real-time pollen counts collected by your fellow citizens? What if you could not just be told the level of noise pollution in your city but measure and publish your own actual decibel measurements taken in front of your home? What if you were one of the more than 3 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, that burned solid fuels, including biomass fuels (wood, dung, agricultural residues) and coal, for their energy, heating, and cooking needs indoors and yet had no way to monitor the health effects of the resulting pollutants on yourself and your family even though nearly 2 million people die annually from indoor air pollution?
Mobile phones are allowing us to communicate, buy, sell, connect, and do miraculous things. However, we claim that this mobile technology, coupled with new sensing and software, can enable us to go beyond finding friends, chatting with colleagues, locating hip bars, and buying music. Our research aims to expand our perceptions of mobile phones as simply a communication tool and to research our envisioned understanding of them as personal measurement instruments capable of sensing our natural environment and empowering collective action through everyday grassroots citizen scienceacross blocks, neighborhoods, cities, and nations.
Our near term goal is to build and study a series of mobile devices outfitted with novel sensors along with an infrastructure that provides public sharing and remixing of these personal sensor measurements by experts and non-experts alike. The overall long-term goal is to develop new communication paradigms that empower communities to produce credible information that can be understood by non-experts, in order to effect positive societal change.