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Photos from Where 2.0 2006

Session

Grassroots Science: Using Pigeons, Sensors, and GPS to Detect Smog

Beatriz da Costa, Pigeonblog

Date: Tuesday, May 29
Time: 4:30pm - 4:37pm
Location: Imperial Ballroom

PigeonBlog enlists homing pigeons to participate in a grassroots scientific data gathering initiative designed to collect and distribute information about air quality conditions to the general public. Pigeons are equipped with custom-built miniature air pollution sensing devices enabled to send the collected localized information to an online server without delay. Pollution levels are visualized and plotted in real-time over Google’s mapping environment, thus allowing immediate access to the collected information to anyone with connection to the Internet. ?

By using homing pigeons as the “reporters” of current air pollution levels we are hoping to achieve two main goals: 1) to re-invoke urgency around a topic that has serious health, environmental and political consequences, but lacks public action and commitment to change; and 2) to broaden the notion of grassroots scientific data gathering while building bridges between scientific research agendas and activist oriented citizen concerns.

Pigeonblog was inspired by a famous famous photograph of a pigeon carrying a camera around its neck taken at the turn of the last century. This technology, developed by German engineer Julius Neubronner for military applications, allowed photographs to be taken by pigeons during flight time. This early example of using living animals as participants in early surveillance technology systems made us pause. What would the 21st century version of this combination look like? What types of civilian and activist applications could it be used for?

With PigeonBlog we hope to make a contribution to the atmospheric and health sciences by introducing a low cost model of obtaining data that would compliment data obtained by the fixed monitoring sites, and would validate urban air shed models of pollution dispersion in areas where fixed monitoring site data are not available.

However, the projects’ main concern lies is in addressing the following questions: How can a non-academic public become involved in scientific data gathering? How can an “old topic” such as air pollution be addressed through artistic means in an effort to increase public interest and support for solutions to these problems? How can real-time information about current localized pollution levels be made public? How can a mutual beneficial human and non-human relationship be developed in an urban context inhabited by both beings? How can we "re-script" our relationship to technology and the city, and build our own hardware and sensing devices? ??

And finally, how can we contribute to a techno-scientific discourse that takes political, research and artistic concerns into account on an equal footing? X