Cheap sensor technology, combined with openly available datasets and increased internet access, is transforming our understanding of the world around us.
By enabling people to take what were formerly inaccessible monitoring tools into their own hands, these advances allow for the creation of detailed data around vitally important environmental issues.
The technology is really well suited to areas of common concern, where it is very difficult for a single centrally resourced organisation to monitor effects at a granular enough level.
The preeminent example of this is Safecast, an open hardware Geiger counter, that enabled Japanese citizens to monitor their local radiation levels in detail after the Fukushima nuclear disaster caused by the earthquake of 2011. Through measuring and sharing radiation data on an open database, citizens have been able to create a detailed map and database that can be seen by anyone and is used to scrutinise official radiation figures from the government.
The Air Quality Egg is an openly developed project that is seeking to create a live network of air quality measurements, and The Smart Citizen Kit is another great tool which allows citizens to measure air, noise and sound pollution in their local area and plot this data in a live online map.
There are ways to turn existing devices into effective monitors. Organisations such as Sensordrone enable you to adapt an existing smartphone to collect data on the environment and research projects such as Commonsense are looking into how to make this work by embedding sensors in commercially available devices.
Photo credit: Fumi Yamazaki on Flickr