Fab Lab Plymouth leads drive to help local people better understand our environment
People from across the city of Plymouth have begun to install environmental sensors, known as Smart Citizen Kits, in their homes and businesses, to better understand their local environment as part of Plymouth College of Art’s Smart Citizens Programme. Assembled and coded by local participants using Arduino and Processing during a six-week training course led by the Smart Citizens Programme in Fab Lab Plymouth, these sensors capture environmental data such as air quality, noise pollution, humidity levels, CO2 levels and more. Six Smart Citizen Kits have now been installed in the homes and gardens of participants around the city, with a further eight soon to be added following another round of training later this month, creating a growing network of environmental sensors.
Local participant Nick Halford with his Smart Citizen Kit (Photo credit: Ray Goodwin)
Although sharing the same name as the Plymouth-based Smart Citizens Programme, the Smart Citizen Kit is an open source project developed by Fab Lab Barcelona. The project builds on open source technologies such as Arduino to enable individuals and communities from around the world to gather information about their environment and make it available to the public via the Smart Citizen platform. Sharing their data on this international platform, the Plymouth-based Smart Citizen Kits empower the local community to better understand and seek solutions to environmental issues within both a local and global context.
Local participant Tim Wornell, who works for the social housing provider Plymouth Community Homes, joined the free six-week training course at Plymouth College of Art. Tim said “The Smart Citizens’ training was really varied, combining elements including 3D printing, coding, electronics, environmental awareness; something to inspire everyone!
“In particular I enjoyed learning how to fetch sensor data from an Application Programming Interface (API) and construct code to make a visual dashboard for interpreting the data. I also enjoyed learning about the environmental conditions and pollutants that the Smart Citizen Kits record.
“My experience of this training has helped me in a recent job application and interview, and I have used the skills I have developed since the course as part of an application to a funded Open University course.
“Since installing the sensor in my home I have regularly checked the data, looking for trends and patterns. Being able to compare with kits located all over the world gives an insight into how much local conditions can vary. For instance, I have compared the noise readings from the kit in my back garden to those from a kit in London - let's just say I am glad I don't live in London!
“It feels rewarding to contribute to a project as part of a group. I feel proud to support the Smart Citizen initiatives, especially because they are raising people's interest in, and awareness of, their environment, and the impact of human activity on their environment.”
Local participant Tim Wornell with his Smart Citizen Kit (Photo credit - Ray Goodwin)
Work is currently ongoing to collate the local Smart Citizen Kit data with existing environmental data generated by other Plymouth organisations, such as the University of Plymouth, The Data Place and the Plymouth City Council-led Green Minds project, to explore how it can be used to empower local people and support decision-making processes for planning across the city.
The creation of these sensors marks the Smart Citizens Programme’s ongoing commitment to the Fab City initiative, which champions cities to make locally following circular economy principles, whilst encouraging global knowledge sharing between cities.
Celebrating Plymouth as the first Fab City in the UK, the Smart Citizens Programme will be hosting a Fab City Plymouth Open Day on Wednesday 22 September, from 12pm to 6pm. This free drop-in event will see 13 Fab City hubs across the city opening their doors with a range of hands-on activities, demonstrations, business support and tours. From beekeeping and sustainable food production to digital manufacturing techniques, the Open Day celebrates how people across Plymouth are working towards creating a more sustainable and collaborative city, following the Fab City principles. Learn more about the Fab City Plymouth Open Day here.
Showcasing Plymouth’s innovative spirit, the Smart Citizens Programme added their own unique additions to the international Smart Citizen Kit. A waterproof case for the sensor was custom-designed by the Fab Lab Plymouth team and 3D printed, allowing it to be located outside in all weathers and customised by local participants. The waterproof case model will also be shared as an open source design, accessible to people around the world.
Local electronics expert Lee Nutbean, who led the six-week training, also developed a custom-coded online platform representing the local environment (such as sky, sun, clouds, rain, hills) with participants specifically for the Plymouth-based sensors. Through this platform, created using the open source software Processing, data such as light, humidity and pollution levels are collated and visualised within an illustrated, easily accessible and interactive dashboard to generate a real-time emulation of source locations. This custom and creative online platform will be showcased at the Fulldome UK festival, taking place from 8-10 October 2021 at the new Devonport Market Hall state-of-the-art immersive dome.
Local maker, Gary Hannaford, is a keen supporter of the Smart Citizens Programme. Creating his own sensor in the six-week Smart Citizen Kit course, Gary said, “I followed my father into toolmaking but left the trade due to medical problems. It is a trade I miss deeply and probably what drives me towards being a maker. The Smart Citizens Programme has been a godsend for me. It has fueled my desire to make and given me the tools to do so.”
“The Smart Citizen Kit training has been great; I am inspired to delve into this world a little deeper now I understand it better. I loved assembling the environmental sensor and enjoyed being involved with Lee’s artwork that uses its data. This boosted my Arduino knowledge, which before the Smart Citizens Programme was limited to making a GPS Speedo to someone else’s design.”
“Having a Smart Citizen sensor at my home that publishes data for others to use is brilliant. I check the outputs frequently to monitor what’s happening around me and I’m even considering expanding the station and adding a weather monitoring system to run alongside the environmental monitor.”
(Left) Local participant Gary Hannaford and his Smart Citizen Kit (Photo credit - Ray Goodwin)
(Right) Gary Hannaford demonstrates how data from his sensor is shared on the international Smart Citizen online platform (Photo credit - Ray Goodwin)
The Smart Citizens Programme’s six-week training not only provided an opportunity to develop electronics and coding skills but supported participants to understand how these skills could be combined with digital fabrication to create smart objects with real-world impacts, such as environmental monitoring.
Local participant, Noa Bailey who took part in the Smart Citizens Programme’s six-week training
Through the Smart Citizens’ training Noa Bailey, aged 12, took his first steps into the world of electronics and coding. Noa said “I really enjoyed the course and learnt so much, including coding and processing script, electronics and 3D printing.
“It was amazing to produce something that can monitor the environment around it and create a digital landscape that shows this. I can’t wait to do the next Smart Citizens course and develop my skills in coding and electronics.”
Liz Bailey, Noa’s mum also added “He is so proud of the kit he has made and is looking forward to taking environmental recordings and viewing them digitally. This is a wonderful opportunity and we feel so fortunate to have the Smart Citizens Programme’s amazing facility on our doorstep.”
Another local participant Gareth Evans found his passion for programming renewed through the Smart Citizens’ training. Gareth, a Qualified Civil Engineer, said, “I would definitely recommend this course. Plymouth College of Art’s Smart Citizens Programme appears to be the only place locally offering technology focused training of this type and the variety of courses and workshops available for free offer something for all ages and abilities.”
“The six-week training rekindled my interest in programming - I have a 30-year-old A-level in Computing! It has developed my knowledge of coding and has pushed me to try new things. I’ve been inspired to develop a Raspberry PI touchscreen dashboard showing information from my sensors.”
“As an engineer, who relies on data to make decisions, I understand how useful it is to gather genuine data about the local environment. I can see many uses for these Kits, including potentially a day where they could be installed close to construction projects to monitor the impact of the project on local residents. I’m a big believer in the benefits of ‘big data’ so it has been great to be able to contribute towards this initiative.”
Smart Citizen Kit sensor created by Gareth Evans (Photo credit - Gareth Evans)
View data captured by kits around the world on the Smart Citizen platform.
This activity is part of the iMayflower project and has been supported by The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who fund the Cultural Development Fund, which is administered by Arts Council England.