There’s plenty of buzz about the concept of making our cities “smarter” — that is, loading them up with sensors and data-driven services to improve efficiency and quality of life. Hell, even Google has taken to loading up its event venues with scores of sensors.
Most of the discussion out there deals with how local governments are working toward this lofty, nebulous goal, but a team called Acrobotics Industries is trying to put the onus on the citizens. To that end the team has kicked off a $50,000 Kickstarter campaign for a small sensor array called the Smart Citizen kit in hopes that people will start collecting and sharing their environmental data with the world.
“There’s a problem with the way current cities were built,” Acrobotic’s COO Francisco Zabala told me. “Beijing’s air quality is insanely bad — we think we have it bad in L.A. — and it’s not getting any better.
The heart (or brain, I guess) of the Smart Citizen project is an Arduino-powered kit that gets tucked away inside (or outside, if you’ve got the right kind of enclosure) of a user’s home to track local environmental variables — think temperature, humidity, air composition, ambient brightness, and sound levels. It’s arguably neat enough to keep tabs on the environmental conditions at your home while you’re not there, but the real value here is when a host of users set up their Smart Citizen sensors and fire up them up en masse.
It’s the team’s hope that Smart Citizen kits will sell widely enough that regular people will be able to get an accurate glance at environmental conditions with a finer sort of granularity than you’d get by firing up, say, the Weather Channel app. For what it’s worth, Zabala concedes that the Smart Citizen project is largely geared toward making people aware of climate change and global warming without getting too political or divisive about it.
“I believe that climate is changing for the worse, but our approach is more personal,” Zabala said. “By raising awareness we’re working toward a solution without banging on people’s heads.”
As it happens, a few of those Smart Citizen kits have already been fired up. A quick look at a demo version of the sensor-tracking website reveals that a handful of the little things are live in Zabala’s native Barcelona — the Smart Citizen team ran an earlier, more local crowdfunding campaign (Zabala called it a “proof of concept run”) that saw a number of users in Spain install and fire up their sensor arrays all around the city. Hovering over a bright blue spot displays the latest environmental data (users can define how often they want those updates to occur), while greyed out units haven’t been fired up lately.
Thanks to how the Smart Citizen kit is constructed, users will eventually be able to monitor more than just the environmental criteria this early kit supports. Zabala said that the Acrobotics team is currently working on swappable daughterboards that will allow the Smart Citizen kit to be used for soil and water testing, too — perfect for you city-dwelling gardeners. If you’re suddenly itching to monitor your surroundings more acutely, you’ll be able to lay claim to a fully constructed Smart Citizen for $155 — the more handy among you can save a little money by springing for the $105 unassembled kit instead.