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Real-Time Diagnostics Of Your Local Water Quality, From The Crowd

Curious about the quality of what you’re drinking? You can use this simple water sensor to upload results to the cloud and, more importantly, find out if other people have discovered something problematic.

Real-Time Diagnostics Of Your Local Water Quality, From The Crowd
Horiyan/Shutterstock

Ever wonder what’s lurking in your tap water? Sure, utilities periodically send out water quality reports, but there can be smaller, more frequent changes. Kleiner Wassersensor (the Little Water Sensor), a project from researchers at the Berlin BMW Guggenheim Lab, is a data collection kit that can provide real-time water quality update for cities when used in tandem with a smartphone app.

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The DIY water sensor kit, seen here, features five strips of paper that test different aspects of water quality, including acidity, bacterial presence, and water hardness. Users just attach the strips to double-sided tape (provided), dunk them in water, reattach them, take a picture of the kit’s QR code, and send the picture to the Berlin team. All pictures are uploaded to the Kleiner Wassersensor map, so anyone can see nearby water quality in real-time.

For the initial trial, the team is giving out kits to people in Berlin. Results, which can come from utility water, bottled water, and natural water sources, are mapped here.

Are there any practical applications for the kit? Founder José Gómez-Márquez tells the BMW Guggenheim Lab that a kit with more advanced testing capabilities–for, say, environmental pollutants and infectious diseases–could have been instrumental in preventing the cholera epidemic that occurred after the 2010 Haiti earthquake from spreading.

This all assumes that people will take time out of their day to test water quality and send in results. Most likely, only a select few water geeks will be interested, at least at first. But Kleiner Wassersensor is far from the only attempt to create a crowdsourced sensor network. Intel hopes to use smartphones to help create an air quality sensor network, and Safecast has deployed citizen-tracked radiation sensors across Japan. It probably won’t be long before most measurable factors in our environment are measured, continuously tracked, and put online for all to see.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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