Citizen Science: The Next DePIN Frontier



Now that Heli­um has shown the world how to deploy a glob­al net­work of phys­i­cal devices at a low capex, and Hivemap­per, GEODNET, and Weath­erXM (among many oth­ers) fol­low­ing suit, what should we expect to see in the next year?

My guess is we’ll see the rise of DePIN/CS, for Decen­tral­ized Phys­i­cal Infra­strucutre Networks/Citizen Science. 

Many of these projects already exist, sup­port­ed by enthu­si­asts around the world who already build and deploy sens­ing devices. It could be the Rasp­ber­ry Shake project mon­i­tor­ing earth­quakes, or Bird­net track­ing bird­song, or Sky360 keep­ing an eye on what goes on up above us. All of these projects show an aver­age per­son how to employ tech­nol­o­gy to gath­er data about the world around them, then share that data to the glob­al community.

Here’s a page from my Bird­net instance, show­ing what birds were heard about my back­yard. You can lis­ten to these birds (or ones clos­er to you) over on the Bird­Weath­er app.

With hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple intro­duced to the idea that they can move slight­ly above the aver­age under­stand­ing of how to employ tech­nol­o­gy (deploy­ing almost a mil­lion LoRaWAN gate­ways around the world in Heli­um’s case), there is a dis­tinct hunger for set­ting up a data-cap­ture device that improves our under­stand­ing of the world and cap­tur­ing some of the val­ue from that data stream.

What will real­ly accel­er­ate this is fig­ur­ing out the dual paths of DIY devices as well as man­u­fac­tured hard­ware. Out­side of Heli­um (and they only did it for a short while), very few projects have explored DIY options, most­ly due to secu­ri­ty rea­sons. The ques­tion remains: How do you make sure the data flow you’re get­ting is real, accu­rate­ly assert­ed, and cor­rect when there is a finan­cial incen­tive to pro­vide it?

Now, all of that is down the road a bit. For now, I’d sug­gest check­ing out a few of these projects and just get­ting your hands dirty. I recent­ly took a Rasp­bery Pi4 and put it into ser­vice as a Bird­net, includ­ing build­ing the cus­tom micro­phone for it.

The project required basic sol­der­ing skills, the abil­i­ty to fol­low instruc­tions, and the abil­i­ty to pur­chase a few things on the inter­net. Not hard, and very promis­ing as far as a low bar­ri­er to entry for rad­i­cal­ly improv­ing our sense of the world. I used an old Heli­um out­door enclo­sure to house the Pi, and in about an hour of assem­bly had a rad lit­tle device that I’m help­ing con­tribute to bird knowl­edge with.

Do you have a favorite “cit­i­zen sci­ence” project? I’d love to hear about it and with any luck, build a node and put my shoul­der to the wheel of science.

Rock on!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.