What's the next step in citizen-empowerment about air
quality and noise, now that governments release more of their environmental data on the Internet? Cheap,
networked amateur/ citizen data collection?
We're fascinated watching initiatives like AirQualityEgg and Pachube, and the noise meters available for the iPhone. Cheap
environmental data collection devices for amateurs may not (yet) be
very accurate, but the practical effect of many data points could
be substantial. AirQualityEgg puts it this way:
"The Air Quality Egg is a sensor system designed to allow
anyone to collect very high resolution readings of NO2 and CO
concentrations outside of their home. These two gases are the most
indicative elements related to urban air pollution that are
sense-able by inexpensive, DIY sensors....The sensors will not be
calibrated and their precision and sensitivity is mediocre.
However, we believe that generating data, even poor data, will not
only contribute in a significant manner given the scale and density
we can achieve, but we are also giving a community of people who
previously had no voice a way to participate."
Pachube provides a free platform to publish
and aggregate citizen data. They note that large amounts of low
quality data can produce meaningful results: "The beauty about
crowdsourcing is that the dataset draws strength from its
heterogeneity. The outliers are easily spotted and discarded while
the data that is consistent across completely unrelated sources is
reinforced. There is a network effect here as each additional
source to some degree "validates" the rest." See
also "Making Sense" video: http://vimeo.com/39775046".
Accuracy seems bound to improve as these devices become more
popular. If nothing else, rapid, real-time, crowd-sourced data
could identify problems overlooked by government bodies, that
warrant full scale professional measurement. Such data could also
provide real time evidence of which air quality interventions work
to improve local conditions. How can we manage what we don't
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