Workshop “Breathe, Amsterdam”

During my last visit to the Netherlands, there was a workshop on November 18th in Amsterdam, with the people from Combustic, Pachube  and Booreiland. The topic was  the measurement of air quality in Amsterdam and how it could be achieved on a crow-sourced basis.

Each coordinating party zoomed on one aspect, with Casper from Combustic being all about problem solving and bringing the participants together, while Ed (Pachube) was passionate about collection and access of data and the related infra-structure. Sara, who was representing Booreiland, came to talk about their fresh out-of-the-printers book (check it at and how can we design products that take full advantage of the The Internet of Things, with special attention to the user.

To get the ball rolling, there were three really cool presentations on air quality [1]; the making of sensors [2]  and finally the coordination of sensors and actuators for morphing architecture [3].

With these, we got an understanding of methods and techniques of air quality monitoring, the future possibilities of the field and how to integrate the resulting data in adaptive systems.Important questions were raised on the importance of air quality data, how should it be collected, who builds the infrastructure, who funds it, etc…

Now, data collection on a crowdsourced basis has two challenges: the technical accomplishment of designing systems that measure what we want and are cheap enough to spread around, and the management of users motivation to participate. Tech for the first, People for the second. Managing these two is not always easy, as we’ve already learned.

A big part of the workshop was the method developed by Booreiland to design with the user in mind and still make use of the technical advantages of products connected to the Internet. It was a bit challenging to get people to stop thinking about features and tech specs and consider user experience and motivations, but at the end we had some cool ideas and even better, everybody was charged up to meet and work in between the two sessions.

After all, the objective is to get to a working system that could be used to sense and record air quality around Amsterdam.By the end of the workshop, we had decided on which variables to measure, and that we wanted to also measure indoors air quality, to compare it with the exterior.

A number of issues were raised on what constitutes clean air (some pollutants are worse than others, for instance), how to scale up or down the data collection and how manage user participation.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to the fun session of actually getting things working, but i was a nice introduction to the topic of data collection and crowdsourcing.

For those of you interested in following what happens there, I suggest you start paying attention to the Internet of Things Amsterdam MeetUp group.

[1] This one from Bas Mijling, of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute was on how air quality is measured and interpreted. It turns out that depending on what you measure, procedures can be very low tech and even manual (particles in the air, for instance, need people to go around town picking up filters and weighting them) or very advanced and even done from the sky (nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, and sulfur dioxide. For info on how they do it, check this out )

[2] Super cool project from Frans Snik, an astronomer at University of Utrecht. In his own words “it aims at measuring dust in the atmosphere and (…) to build a network of people that do scientific measurements. True crowdsourcing…”

[3] “The Camaleon” project from TU Delft Architecture students Thijs van der Lely and Oswaldo Heinen. Nice explanation of how to integrate several technologies (different sensors, interpreting software, modeling software and rendering software). They explained a bit on how to do it, be sure to check it out.

What do you think?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s