the different functions that sensors
can perform and provides an example
of how children can use sensors for
learning about environmental science.
One reason that sensors have not
yet been widely used in citizen science
is that the locations where they would
be most useful are often out of range
for Wi-Fi and cellular networks.
However, in addition to research on
improvements to these networks,
some researchers have found short-term workarounds to alleviate this
problem. For example, human-relay
systems require citizen scientists, in
collaboration with scientists, to carry
their phone data from their project sites
to access points, where the data can
be uploaded to another system. This
uploading process occurs via specially
developed middleware [ 14]. Sense-it
(Sidebar 8) adopts another approach.
It works outside of Wi-Fi and cellular
network ranges, and then the net work
and phone sync when back in range.
Further research is needed to find other
long-term solutions to this problem.
Another exciting citizen-science
opportunity is to link a broader range of
sensors to mobile devices by Bluetooth
for monitoring water quality or
atmospheric pollution, or to link with
citizen weather stations and monitoring
posts (e.g., wxqa.com). HCI researchers
have a role in improving the quality
of citizen-provided sensor data by
removing gross errors and correcting
instrument bias [ 15].
The sensors on smartphones could
also act as controllers for other devices,
such as drones. Even though there are
ethical and political concerns about
using drones stemming from the
military’s use of them for surveillance,
drones are valuable for recording
pictures and related data in places
that are otherwise difficult to access.
For example, drones can be used for
examining vegetation changes in
heavily forested areas like the Amazon
basin, and for tracking elephants
and poachers across vast areas of
savannah. There is a role for HCI
researchers interested in the privacy
issues associated with using drones in
citizen science and in other types of data
collection using technology [ 16].
This article began with pessimistic
Smartphones with sensing devices.
news about the plight of species and
the impact of climate change, but
find, the level of her formal training in
ecologically related courses, and her
status within the iSpot community [ 13]
Sensors are used extensively in
environmental science for monitoring
air and water quality, noise, sound, and
vibrations, but they are underexplored
in citizen science. This is starting
to change and will continue to do so
as sensor technology, smartphone
battery life, and Wi-Fi and cellular
networks improve. Sidebar 8 describes
GAMES IN CITIZEN SCIENCE
Jacob Sherson’s lab ( scienceathome.org) is developing games
that encourage participants to push boundaries to identify
new research directions. These games focus on quantum
physics, chemistry, engineering, psychology, economics, and
Examples of biodiversity citizen-science games include
Citizen Sort and Questa. Citizensort.org is a suite of three
games, Happy Match, Forgotten Island, and Living Links
that involve players in sorting organisms and other
activities. Happy Match invites players to classify moths.
Questa ( questagame.com) invites children to learn about
biodiversity in their neighborhoods, parks, or schoolyards
by searching for organisms. The children have to provide
evidence for their reports, which are then checked against
a database of possibilities and recorded. Points are earned
for successfully contributing to quests. Another example
of a game for learning about nature is Chirp USA!, an app
that tests players’ recognition of bird songs and calls.
TYPES OF SENSORS
Mike Sharples and his colleagues provide a useful classification of sensors into four
categories [ 21]:
• motion sensors that measure acceleration and rotation using a
three-axis coordinate system
• environmental sensors that measure ambient conditions such as
changes in light, temperature, pH, etc.
• position sensors that measure physical location, such as GPS and
the proximity of objects
• body sensors that measure heart rate and fingerprints, etc.
The British Open University’s citizen-inquiry research project provides an example
of how sensors are used by school-age students to explore science phenomena. Some
examples of the students’ projects include using sensors to record sunlight, noise levels,
and barometric pressure at different locations. They then relate their findings to other
phenomena such as bird behavior and changes in the weather. These projects require
an Android app called Sense-it, available at Google Play ( play.google.com/store/apps/
details?id=org.greengin.sciencetoolkit). This app contains a toolkit for citizen-science
inquiry-based science learning that allows participants to explore, record, and share
data. A website, nquire-it.org, offers suggestions of missions that can be investigated
using Sense-it. Teachers and individuals can also develop their own missions.