AirCasting: a platform for recording, mapping, and sharing health & environmental data

Created by Michael Heimbinder.

I'm a Developer in Brooklyn, NY. I work at HabitatMap, Inc..

Project Description

AirCasting is a platform for recording, mapping, and sharing health and environmental data using your smartphone. Each AirCasting session lets you capture real-world measurements, annotate the data to tell your story, and share it via the CrowdMap. AirCasting has fostered a DIY environmental monitoring community which maps thousands of measurements a month from enviro-sense and bio-sense devices and visualizes the measurements using LED clothing and accessories.

AirCasting is targeted at community based organizations, schools, research institutions, and citizen scientists interested in health and environmental monitoring, electrical & mechanical engineering, fashion & design, rapid prototyping, and open source code. Participants include citizen scientists from around the world; students at Queens Vocational & Technical High School and the Lyons Community School; scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency and Sonoma Technology; researchers at NYU Wagner, Wagner College, and Bank Street College; doctors at NYU Institute of Environmental Medicine; software developers at Lunar Logic Polska; educators at the New York Hall of Science and Parsons the New School for design; members of the Newtown Creek Alliance; and youth from the YMCA, Girl Scouts, and the Jacob Riis Houses.

The first version of the AirCasting Android app and website were launched in December 2011. We began AirCasting by measuring sound levels in New York City for three reasons: 1) new Yorkers care about neighborhood noise - it’s the #1 complaint filed with the City’s 311 hotline; 2) unwanted noise negatively impacts people’s health; and 3) smartphones already have microphones, so no additional hardware was required. Starting with noise monitoring allowed us to build out the basic functionality of the app while addressing an environmental problem of great concern to a large number of New Yorkers.

In the following months we worked to expand the range of enviro-sense devices that plug into the AirCasting platform to include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, temperature, and relative humidity sensors and added connectivity for our first bio-sense device, a heart rate monitor. We also programmed the app to interface with custom-designed sensor packages, leaving the door open for the DIY community to add new sensors.

From its inception, the development of the AirCasting platform has been informed by feedback from community based organizations and educators who are actively engaged in running programs that utilize and build on top of our technologies.

Much of what happens in our immediate environment passes without note despite the positive contribution that recording and crowdsourcing these moments might have on our understanding of our health and the health of our communities. AirCasting is a platform for capturing this lost reality and returning it to us as useful, actionable data. By making it possible for AirCasters to annotate specific environmental and biological moments in time and space, we are supplementing the qualitative information reported by conscious human experience with the quantitative information from sensing equipment that observes and records aspects of our bodies and our environments that are either impossible to perceive directly (e.g. pollutant gas concentrations) or difficult to quantify and communicate in a consistent manner (e.g. noise levels). By creating a platform that crowdsources data from thousands or potentially millions of cybernetic devices, AirCasting becomes an analytics engine capable of picking out emergent patterns in human environments and biology.

HabitatMap, as the organization that manages the development of the AirCasting platform, has a specific set of goals for the AirCasting project, developed in partnership with the community based organizations and educators we work with on a regular basis. These goals are to: 1) equip youth and community advocates with the skills, knowledge, and tools to record, interpret, and communicate air quality information; 2) furnish youth and community advocates with hands-on learning experiences that encourage them to engage with their environment, participate in community life, and understand why science, technology, engineering, art & design and mathematics are important in the context of solving real world problems; and (3) provide meaningful and accessible air quality information to the public and policy makers that will lead to more informed decision making and improved air quality.

Project Goals

  • Partner with community based organizations, schools, and youth organizations to deploy AirCasting

  • Support low-cost air quality sensor development and evaluation

  • Propose plausible links between health outcomes and airborne pollutants

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