Practical Uses of Environmental Sensor Data in Real Life

If you like playing with gadgets, it’s pretty easy to get excited about working with environmental sensors. Advances in both electronics miniaturization and wireless technologies have resulted in affordable sensors that can deliver data around the world in an instant. It’s never been easier to find out what exactly is in the air, water, or earth around you!

That said, while the technological advances are undoubtedly impressive, they are ultimately beside the point. Sensors that produce environmental data in a vacuum are of little practical use. It’s the work that happens beyond the sensors that really helps make a difference. This analytical work is either by software tools that pull meaningful insights from the data, or by humans manually hunting for those same insights. In our experience, the best outcomes result from a combination of human and computer analysis.

In this post, we’re going to take a quick tour through some inspiring practical uses of environmental sensor data—projects that start with data and then go beyond it in order to produce actionable outcomes. Our hope is that we give you a greater understanding of how important it is for society to collect environmental data, and maybe even inspire you to start an environmental monitoring project in your own community.

Let’s dive in!

  • Apple and the University of Michigan have collected exposure data from 400 million hours of environmental sounds and supplemented this research with lifestyle surveys to analyze how sound exposure affects hearing, stress levels, and cardiovascular health.
University of Michigan and Apple are monitoring ambient noise to understand its physical health impacts.
  • Environmental data can help improve accuracy in weather forecasting. “The accuracy of Earth system models contribute to the protection of life and property on this planet in the face of environmental and climate change” —Director-General of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.
  • NASA use environmental data for everything from discovering previously unknown villages in the Amazon rainforest, to better understanding the effects of climate change on urban forests back home in the US.
  • Researchers in the UK are using public opinion on smart water meters to get a better understanding of the pros and cons of deploying this technology in homes. This study focuses less on sensor data, and more on public opinion about data collection, and illustrates the need for public buy-in when collecting data about an individual’s environmental impact.
  • The Trash Track project used hundreds of small location-aware tags to follow trash through a city’s waste management system, revealing the final journey of our everyday objects in a series of real-time visualizations.
The Trash Track project helps understand what happens when we throw something away.
  • The Curio Canopy project combined satellite imagery with crowdsourced input to gather insights about urban trees. This data helped position the trees as a valuable public resource, and increased on-the-ground efforts to monitor and manage their health.
  • At Temboo, our customers always gather environmental data for a reason. Most commonly, people want to understand what’s in the air they are breathing, discover and mitigate flood risks, shine a light on water pollution, and quantify the effectiveness of green infrastructure.

Are you interested in gathering environmental sensor data to better understand what’s really happening in your community? Contact us to learn how Temboo can help.