The Internet of Things is just emerging, but I want to plant a seed. This is the story of what’s happening right now. And for me, it started in my community. +++++++++This talk traces and expands upon a blog post I wrote entitled: “What do open sensor networks mean for journalism?”http://javaunmoradi.com/blog/2011/12/16/what-do-open-sensor-networks-mean-for-journalism/
I live in a small neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. Our main street is lined with shops and restaurants and every Saturday the sidewalks are filled with people walking dogs and pushing kids in strollers.
But I also live within a few miles of a dirty coal fired power plant that is exempt from 1970s pollution controls AND Reagan National Airport, where jet exhaust puts out all sorts of toxic pollutants. What am I breathing on my walk to Metro? What does my daughter breathe when she plays outside?
The EPA can’t even answer my question. There are 20 air quality sensors for the 5.6 million people in the DC metro area. The closest is 2 miles from my neighborhood. This is super frustrating. It’s 2012, shouldn’t there be something I can hang in my backyard?+++++++++http://www.epa.gov/reg3artd/airquality/r3monitors.htmhttp://alexandriava.gov/AirQuality
That’s how I discovered Ed Borden’s project. Ed works at Pachube, a data hub for the internet of things. He’s working with hackers and scientists to build a networked sensor with off the shelf hardware. Instead of a few sensors in a city there could be thousands, making data that has never existed.And then I kept looking around…++++++++++++http://blog.pachube.com/2011/12/you-can-help-build-open-air-quality.html
Leif Percifield wants to use proximity sensors to prevent raw sewage from flowing into New York Harbor. When storms cause sewer levels to rise, the sensors can alert communities to delay water usage until the treatment facility can catch up. +++++++http://dontflush.me
The Air Quality Egg projectis trying to get an answer to a question. Don’t Flush Me is starting with a known problem. These citizen sensor projects are gathering local information, starting conversations, and trying to tie behavior to consequences.
Sensors are everywhere, my big interest is in the citizen efforts. The hardware and the data is going to be open. No one owns it. Citizens are doing this to solve problems they care about. Putting a sensor out there is making a decision to publish. +++++++++The test sensor data referenced above is near Hamburg, Germany:https://pachube.com/feeds/48307
So a whole lot more open data is coming our way. First we scraped what was out there. Next, we said “please release it in machine readable forms”. Very soon, if the data we need doesn’t exist, we can make it in real-time.
Some of this data will be useless, but some will create new opportunities for journalism.There will be challenges. All sensors need calibration and Readings can be affected by weather and environmental conditions. +++++++Chase’s excellent News Foo 2012 Ignite Talk:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWrEUXAENlk
Then there’s human error – someone might hang a carbon monoxide sensor INSIDE their garage. But there will be so many of these sensors that individual deviation will be less of a problem. Citizen sensors will give us directional trends, they’re not meant to replace scientific sensors, though those are changing too…++++++++++++++++++++++++++This is actually a photo of Leif installing a water temperature/conductivity test sensor in GowanusCanel, Brooklyn during an April 2012 Water Hackathon in NYC.
Steven Chillrud is a geochemist at Columbia University. He was fed up with older, fixed sensors that are far away from where people live. So he outfitted New York school children with high-grade portable soot sensors. Citizen sensors and scientific data can work together to build out a better picture. +++++++Steven Chillrud’s Page at Columbiahttp://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~chilli/index.html
There is a bigger problem. We have to make certain we’re not making data for data’s sake. We need to ask ourselves: “does the data solve a problem anyone cares about?”+++++++XKCD: http://xkcd.com/688/
We have great data on climate change, but the problem feels remote.Polar bears will die way up there and those people who live over there get flooded. We need to make problems personal and local. Is bad air hurting our children? What should our community do?
Ideally, we tie data to feedback. The Nest thermostat tells you when you’re saving money. Sweden’s Speeding ticket lottery gives good drivers a chance to win money. Leif has a prototype light that can change color based on a data feed, brining feedback into your bathroom.+++++++++++++++++++++Light prototype: http://dontflush.meSpeeding ticket lottery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iynzHWwJXaA
The first opportunity for news organizations is that there’s a lot more data for reporting. We can do visualizations. This one did use EPA data. We can do feature stories.
We can investigate. The data might show an irregularity that a reporter investigates using traditional means. Or, the sensor might be the trigger for investigation. ATribune reporter borrowed one of Steven Chillrud’s professional sensors and monitored commuter trains in Chicago. +++++++++++Michael Hawthorne’s Chicago Tribune Piece:http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-11-05/health/ct-met-dirty-diesel-20101105_1_diesel-soot-diesel-exhaust-metra
There’s also hope for closed societiesBack in January the NY Times reported on Beijing activists using handheld sensors and the US Embassy sensor to debunk the Chinese government’s official story on air quality. Hat tip to Reg Chua of Reuters for this pointer. ++++++++++++Reg Chua talks about hope for closed societies: http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~chilli/index.htmlNY Times piece on Chinese activists: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/28/world/asia/internet-criticism-pushes-china-to-act-on-air-pollution.html?_r=1&pagewanted=allLive feed for Air sensor atop US Embassy: twitter.com/BeijingAir
There may not be another multibillion dollar Weather Industry out there, but I think we’ll see niches that are as valuable to certain cities as hourly forecasts and weather maps. What about noise conditions for people house-hunting? Really granular ski conditions? The best neighborhoods for people with asthma?
Opportunity 2 for sensor networks is to create civic media platforms. These achieve the goals of journalism without traditional reporting. News organizations aren’t doing this right now, and maybe we should. Alex Howard of O’Reilly describes ‘See Click Fix’ as using Citizens as Sensors.
A citizen sensor network has already spawned a company. After Fukushima, there was no public geiger network, so citizens created one. For 6 months, this was all there way. Safecast is standardizing sensors with off the shelf parts and creating a global information network.++++++++Live Geiger Map: http://japan.failedrobot.com/ (still includes many citizen sensors in addition to Safecast hardware)Pachube blogs on the radiation project: http://blog.pachube.com/search/label/radiationhttp://safecast.org
One of these sensor projects could be the next civic platform. News organizations can partner with these startups. New platforms lack audience and the credibility to speak to them. Public media has a huge audience that is dying to do more, and all we ever ask them to do is tune in and send money.
Journalists can also think about running the next platforms. Civic Meda startups take the reporters toolkit – ethics, fact-checking, vettting – and use it to run a platform at scale.
We running into each other because we’re trying to solve the same problems. We should also pay attention to the talented amateurs out there. The experimentation is well underway
There are hackathons nearly every weekend. Matt Waite is doing sensor experiments with his students at University of Nebraska Lincoln, and he has a Knight News Challenge pitch to create a full lab. This blueprints will be out there, but you won’t need to build your own sensors, because soon you’ll be able to buy them off a shelf. +++++++Matt’s News Challenge Pitch:http://newschallenge.tumblr.com/post/19021661497/sensor-networks-for-news
Ed Borden’s air sensor is funded on Kickstarter! Maybe someday you’ll get one of these instead of a tote bag when you pledge public media. There is a $10,000 option that’s still open to sensor up a whole city. Perhaps someone wants to buy this for San Francisco or Berkeley? Come on California, instant critical mass! I know some local media folks who can help.++++++++++http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/680121538/air-quality-egg
There is a systemic appeal to sensors. Solve a problem for one city and replicate it in another. It scales well. But sensors are inherently about local information and local engagement. It hits public radio’s sweetspot really nicely too. That’s really why I like them.
Cities are built on so many complex systems, but as Leif says our environment and infrastructure are invisible to us. I found these projects because I wanted answers about my own neighborhood. I suspect there are millions out there who are just like me.Thanks
What do open sensors mean for journalism - TechRacking 2012
What do open sensors mean for journalism? Javaun Moradi NPR Digital @javaun