Friday, December 18, 2009

Using Bikes, and the Social Web, for Environmental Monitoring

MIT's Senseable City Lab has a lot of great projects loosely organized around the idea that a proliferation of cheap sensors, hand-held electronics, and mobile networks offers people more ways to collect and interpret data about their city.

So, for instance, you can embed a cheap radio beacon into a piece of garbage and learn about your city's waste-handling practices (something that city governments rarely like to talk about publicly). The Senseable City Lab did it.

The Lab has a new project they're launching in Copenhagen now, in conjunction with the global climate suicide pact treaty negotiations.

Copenhageners love riding their bikes: it's the dominant mode of transportation in the city, and how 57 percent of workers and students commute. The Senseable City Lab designed a new bicycle wheel (pictured at right) that includes a small electric motor and a 3-speed internal hub, which can transform any bike into a hybrid human-powered/electric bike.

But the hub also includes a GPS unit and an array of environmental sensors that measure levels of pollutants like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, plus temperature and weather conditions. As users ride through the city, they can share their data online with others, and offer real-time environmental transects on a daily basis.

As more users use the wheel and share their data, the city can get a bigger, more complete sense of environmental hotspots, how pollutant levels change over the course of a day, and how to better-manage pollution sources.

I want one. Imagine being able to do your environmental ground-truthing on a leisurely bike ride, or a crowd-sourced revelation of the embarrassing hotspot of volatile organic compounds (from the basement laundry) next to the luxury hotel downtown. I'm hoping these come to the mass market soon.

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