A volunteer group of tech experts is creating a low-cost network of sensors in Edmonton that could level the playing field in favour of local citizens when it comes to gathering data.
BetaCity is testing the network to measure air quality, cyclists and foot traffic, but the backbone of the system can make gathering data flexible and economic for anyone. That means data to prove a point in a civic debate or highlight public risks may no longer be something only in the hands of government and big corporations.
“It’s low power, long range, low cost,” said Lydia Zvyagintseva, presenting the public LoRa Network project Wednesday at the Open Data Summit at the Chateau Lacombe.
The network could be up within weeks if they get a small grant or an influx of volunteers; current volunteers have been picking away at it more slowly for the past nine months.
Their test sensors are built out of pieces easily ordered online for less than $200. They can run on small solar panels or batteries that can last a year. The network itself will let anyone remotely upload data from a simple sensor and add it to a spread sheet. It’s like wifi, but for tiny packages of data. That means no more time-intensive data collection, hiking to sensors one by one and collecting memory cards.
“The port cost is negligible; the biggest cost is time,” said Marcin Misiewicz, a local electronics engineer and volunteer, who’s been working on setting this up for about nine months.
“The tech side is exciting. We’re making the smart cities they talked about 10 years ago a reality,” he said, adding these types of networks are already well-used in several European cities, but don’t exist yet in Canada.
BetaCity is experimenting with air-quality tests because Alberta Environment’s monitoring is limited to just a couple of sites in Edmonton. Industry also tests for air quality near individual plants. But this will let citizens get a consistent rating at the street or sidewalk level, where no one is testing now.
“What we doing is not going to replicate the precision of the (Alberta Environment) tests, but it’s good enough to give you an idea,” Misiewicz said. “If there are problem areas, that would warrant further investigation. If you’re not measuring, you don’t know.”
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