Question: how much do you know about the quality of your own, personal, local climate? Do you know the concentration of CO2 in the air you're breathing, in the air that people are breathing in your neighborhood or city?
I'm pretty sure your answer is "no". These data aren't collected at that micro scale, and even when they are collected (by public authorities, research entities or private firms) they aren't generally made easily available.
That's the premise behind my friend Leandro (Leeander) Agrò's OpenSpime idea, which he and his small team at WideTag Inc in Turin, Italy, are turning into both a product and, hopefully soon, a movement.
A "spime" (the word -- a contraction of "space" and "time" -- was coined by sci-fi writer Bruce Sterling) is an object that, thanks to GPS and sensors, is aware of where and when it is, and can record and communicate these data. OpenSpimes are designed to allow everyone to record and visualize environmental (or other) data, to store them, publish them, blog them, compare them, mix and mash them up.
The first spime they've designed is a smart application of distributed computing in the service of sustainability. It can measure the CO2 level in parts-per-million in the surrounding air, and through a bluetooth link to a cell phone (or an alternative link to a laptop or other wireless channels) can relay that information back to the OpenSpime servers. There they can be mashed up and aggregated on Google Maps in almost-real-time. Here is a picture of the first prototype "reporting" on a Google Map:
A dissemination of OpenSpimes could produce a very granular image of CO2 presence or of other local indicators (industrial data for example, as in the following Italian example, where as you zoom in the single detected values appear related to their point of gathering -- and it can get much more detailed the more OpenSpimes there are):
To come back to CO2: "I guess it's indisputable today that climate change is real", Leeander told me, "and CO2 is at the core of it, but so far people have little awareness of its concentration in their immediate surroundings. Yet, real change can come only when people act -- and information is the basis for action".
CO2 monitoring is just the first app, of course, as the OpenSpime way of looking at things could potentially be applied to many other fields, and transform alot of "independent" hardware (such as cars) into "social" and environmentally-aware hardware.
The whole infrastructure is built on an open framework, which means that once they roll this out (it's at prototype stage for now) everybody will be able to use it freely. "It's almost all open source and creative commons", says Leeander, with only one exception: the SpimeID, which is a certification mechanism based on encrypted ID numbers that they've designed to ensure the transmitted data can be trusted. Selling and managing the SpimeIDs (which presumably will cost only a few euros or dollars) is what will bring to OpenSpime the revenues to run the system.
Again, it's all prototypes for now, but pretty cool and very promising. For more, here is a video explaining the basics, and here a short speech by WideTag's evangelist David Orban at the recent eTech conference.