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Measuring Flow . . . My ITP Thesis

Measuring Flow . . . My ITP Thesis

February 20th, 2010  |  Published in Culture, Design, ITP, Physical Computing, Technology & Society, Thesis

1) Thesis Statement

In the midst of current global water crisis, water scarcity remains one of the most devastating problems faced by populations in semi-arid regions throughout both the developed and the developing world. Existing methods of monitoring the volume of water flowing in these environments are both prohibitively expensive and destructive to the ecosystems they seek to monitor. This state of affairs is currently a major obstacle to scientific research as well as projects seeking to better manage this increasingly scarce resource. So I am proposing in my thesis to draw upon the work I started last spring at the CL Browning Ranch and create an open-source and inexpensive solution to the problem.
2) Personal Statement

I was sent by ITP to the CL Browning Ranch in Johnson City in March of 2009, Texas to explore the ways in which we might leverage emerging technologies to assist their work in land restoration. While on the ranch we discovered that much of the equipment needed to do their research is both prohibitively expensive and not well suited to the job. As I became more interested in the global water crisis workign on the Water Canary in Clay Shirky’s UNICEF class I discovered that the problem faced on the ranch (which primarily effects scientific research) is the identical problem faced by governments trying to combat the problem of water scarcity. It method to inexpensively and accurately monitor this problem could have an immeasurable impact upon the effort to combat the water crisis. What I hope is to advance this effort while deepening my own understanding of the social applications of telemetrics and physical computing to addressing environmental and political problems.  In addition it is my hope that this work will interface well with the work we have done on the Water Canary and illustrate the next steps that work might take.

3) Research – what have you done to date?

I spent a week at the Browning Ranch examining their work in land restoration and discussing the ways we might apply technology help overcome the obstacles they are facing.  This trip in conjunction with my work on the Water Canary has provided me with a foundational understanding of the factors contributing to the global water crisis, and after members of my group traveled to Ethiopia and Egypt this past summer to meet with Govenrment officials and NGO’s it became apparent that the problem faced by the Browning Ranch is identical to that faced by governments fighting to ensure a sustainable water supply for the decades to come.  In my discussions with Scott Gardner at the Browning Ranch we speculated that if an electromechanical solution to the problem cannot be found, it is highly likely that it could be solved by using either ultrasonic instruments, or potentially computer vision.  Scott has confirmed in the time since that the hydrologist he consults with is convinced that ultrasonic is highly feasible and my conversations with Eric Rosenthal about the applications of ultrasonic to the monitoring of gas pipelines has confirmed that there may indeed be a linear sonic relationship that we can use to solve this problem.

4) Work Description

I plan to work upon several methods for measuring small volumes of water flowing through a watercourse that I will construct with the guidance of environmental scientists and hydrologists I’ve met through my contacts at the Browning Ranch. I will explore both older mechanical technologies for measuring water, as well as advanced methods utilizing computer vision and ultrasonics, in an effort of narrowing down the most practical solution to the problem. I will engage in heavy documentation of the process in hope that by the end of the semester I will have a significant body of work that can be taken up by interested members of the scientific and open source hardware communities. While engaging in this I will also seek to network with governmental and non-governmental agencies that have a vested interest in the project in an attempt to provide a solution that can meet the needs of all parties and provide them with a common platform.

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