Smartphone apps turn citizens into scientists
Around 100 million Americans use web-connected, camera-equipped phones on a daily — probably hourly — basis. Which is why many developers are exploring how this extraordinary resource can be harnessed for social change. By using our phones to snap photographs of trash-filled riverbeds, for example, or geo-tag pervasive noise pollution, just about anyone can contribute to vital data treasures that can reshape the world. Such crowd-sourced data advances scientific research and improves long-term planning. Today, we feature a few of our favorite apps that are empowering everyday people to become citizen scientists.
- NOAH, or Networked Organisms And Habitats, is an iPhone app that helps people learn more about the natural world using the virtual one. You can download field guides to look up different organisms you want to learn more about, or you can volunteer for a mission to help research groups and organizations track invasive plants or log photographs of endangered species. Right now, NOAH is working with groups who need help tracking wildlife in the Gulf Coast region.
- Using the Visibility smartphone app, you can help researchers at the Robotic Embedded Systems Laboratory measure air pollution. After downloading the app, take a picture of the sky, rate the visibility and upload the image. The researchers who receive your image have developed an algorithm that lets them assess the particulate matter in the air just by collecting a large quantity of unobstructed images of the sky. So the more images you send in, they better they can evaluate the air pollution in your area.
- Creek Watch is an iPhone app that lets you help monitor the health of your local watershed. If you pass by a waterway you can use the Creek Watch application to snap a picture and note how much water and trash you see. Analysts aggregate the data and share it with water control boards to help them track pollution and manage water resources.