Sensing Nature: The Babbling Brook

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Information about Sensing Nature: The Babbling Brook

Published on March 6, 2014

Author: CatherineDIgnazio



I am interested in civic engagement around water quality sensing. How can the public better understand and relate to water quality data? The Babbling Brook is prototype for a networked sensing flower that grows out of a body of water and constantly jokes about the water quality that it is sensing to whoever will listen. Ideally there would be a live webcam trained on the flower so that people could listen in over the Internet as well.

The problem that it solves is around engagement and interpretation of civic data. We are seeing data unlocked like never before, but there is still the problem of how we analyze, interpret and make use of that data. The Babbling Brook is like a weird guide in this space - helping to interpret and engage people around data that really matters to their everyday lives.

The Babbling Brook Catherine D’Ignazio Research Assistant MIT Center for Civic Media

Photography and research captured by me + the neighborhood

Research Question • Could creating playful, highly mediated, public speech interfaces with water bodies help us imagine the tremendous agency and import that they have for our everyday lives?

Goals • Get to know the creek in my backyard via photography, observation, sensing, and talking to neighbors • Collect water quality sensor data from the creek and create a public way (twitter) to dialogue with the creek in-situ and on the Internet • Create an online repository with visualizations to explore the sensor data and support learning

Prior Work & Inspiration

Political/Hydrological by Lauren Rosenthal, 2006

Amphibious Architecture by Natalie Jeremijenko & colleagues

The Singing Bush and the Three Amigos (1986)

The project has 2 sites 1. At the Creek: Neighbors see an oddly shaped, unnatural red thing sticking out of the water that talks constantly in “twitter language” and tells bad jokes 2. Online: Visitors see the creek’s live twitter feed, hear its tweeting updates as they happen and explore the sensor data both live and over time


Interactive visualizations of sensor data that pan and zoom across time (seconds to seasonal) @kanarinka I seem to be on the up and up, almost 14 inches today!

Physical Object + +

Measurements BUILT-IN • Light Levels - Intersil ISL29023 high dynamic range ambient light sensor • • Time of Day - Real-time clock Air Temperature - Sensirion SHT21 high-resolution temperature/ humidity sensor ADD-ON • • Real-time Sound - Include the optional differential mic • Ph Levels - Silver chloride pH Sensor kit from Atlas Scientific/ SparkFun + the Ph Circuit • Water Level Sensor - eTape Liquid Level Sensor (24" version) from Milton Tech Water Temperature -10K Precision Epoxy Thermistor - 3950 NTC from adafruit

System Architecture

Next Steps • • Keep working on my own little creek • Is this the right thing for a particular context? Explore Babbling Brook at Tidmarsh, on the Mystic River. • How to integrate with education and outreach efforts? Gather information; Meet people; learn more about water ecology & measurement; Do my entirely unrelated thesis project.

Jokes Platform for Environmental Data? FUNNY!! if water temperature is above X and depth is below Y then say this joke: on-site observation "Knock Knock, Who's There? X Degrees. X Degrees who? NotReally-Funny Punchline!!" + = web-based jokes platform networked sensors + + Data Analysis & Comedy workshops talking flower or other weirdness


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