Cell phones may measure personal environment
May 4th, 2009

This developing possibility is described in a Seed Magazine story dated yesterday. My first, maybe silly, thought was that technology has a long record of doing this. Think about the microscope, for example. I read somewhere that Anthony Leeuwenhoek was pretty shocked when he magnified the scum from his teeth and saw things wiggling in it. In any event, we may soon know more about the pollutants we are experiencing, as Seed explains:

Our cell phones have become portable guides to the world around us and are changing the way we move through it — towards the nearest ATM, or available taxi, or away from a restaurant that garnered bad reviews. But what if cell phones could measure the temperature and humidity or pick up unseen environmental contaminants like air pollution, UV levels, and pollen count in our immediate surroundings?

“How would it change your ideas about moving around in the world, if you could suddenly sense things you couldn’t see?” asks Eric Paulos, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Paulos wants to put tiny environmental sensors in cell phones and turn phone users into roving citizen scientists who continuously sample and respond to their personal environment. This type of local and real-time environmental data would not only facilitate science and satisfy individual curiosity, it will empower people to uncover, visualize, and collectively share information about their own neighborhoods and cities. It could ultimately encourage active participation in protecting and improving those spaces. . . .

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