IBM is using the iPhone to help contribute to environmental preservation efforts in California. Creek Watch, a new free app developed by IBM in partnership with California’s State Water Control Board, allows anyone to report unsafe or polluted water conditions to the proper authorities.
Users simply upload a report to a database monitored by board employees. A report can include a photo taken with your device, and information about the water level, flow rate, and how much trash there is present, in addition to information about your location automatically shared by your iPhone. Any required info can be entered via buttons, so there’s no laborious typing involved unless you want to add a comment. A “Definitions” button provides the scale by which conditions may be measured, cutting down on the level of guesswork involved.
The app stores a history of your reports locally, and also provides a map that’s updated with observations as they come in, so you can see if someone else has already reported similar conditions in your immediate area.
IBM designed the app to make it as easy as possible for local residents and visitors to contribute productively to the management of the state’s ecosystem, and to do so without any expert knowledge. The tech firm noted that contaminated water is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, beating out crime and war, according to a UN study. According to Christine Robson of IBM’s research division (speaking to InformationWeek), the app is a great example of the ecological good that can come from crowdsourcing:
Creek Watch lets the average citizen contribute to the health of their water supply — without PhDs, chemistry kits and a lot of time. Harnessing the crowdsourced data movement for a cause people care about is a win-win-win for citizens, local water boards, and IBM’s desire to solve big data challenges.
If this experiment works, it could have huge potential for use in the U.S. and abroad. Waterway monitoring is expensive, and local, state and national preservation agencies just don’t have the resources available to adequately cover that much ground. Putting even basic monitoring duties in the hands of concerned citizens, and eliminating technological and knowledge barriers that might otherwise prevent them from participating, could result in major progress in our guardianship of our crucial freshwater resources.
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