SeeBoat (Thermal Fishing Bob): In-place environmental data visualization


Laura Perovich

Laura Perovich

Two of the most important traits of environmental hazards today are their invisibility and the fact that they are experienced by communities, not just individuals. Yet we don't have a good way to make hazards like chemical pollution visible and intuitive.  SeeBoat and the thermal fishing bob seek to visceralize rather than simply visualize data by creating a physical data experience that makes water pollution data present in communities. 

SeeBoat is a remote control boat with sensors (temperature, turbidity, conductivity, pH) that measure local water quality and LEDs that display the data on site by changing color in real time. Data is also logged to be physically displayed elsewhere and can be further recorded using long-exposure photos. Making environmental data experiential and interactive will help both communities and researchers better understand pollution and its implications.

The Thermal Fishing Bob is an early version of this tool that has a spherical form factor and focuses on measuring water temperature as a marker for combined sewer overflows (CSOs) that may pollute rivers.  

This project began in partnership with Sara Wylie (Northeastern University) in Spring 2015. Early work included Thermal Fishing Bob workshops, design iteration, prototyping, system testing with users in the Mystic River and Charles River, long exposure photography events, and further concept development. In Spring of 2017, Perovich and Wylie began a collaboration with Roseann Bongiovanni of GreenRoots, an environmental justice community group in Chelsea, MA, to test and iterate on the devices so they best suit the environmental and social context in the local community.  As part of this process, Perovich continued to develop the technical side of the project to create SeeBoat, a remote control boat based system, including sensors for turbidity, conductivity, pH, radio based data communication, and designs for and early implementation of an Android app for collecting and viewing quantitative sensor data. Perovich, Wylie, and Bongiovanni are also pursuing related routes of research and community engagement around open access environmental data, the politics of space, community based data installations, and evaluating individual and group learning through extended participatory action research projects. 

A publication describing their first year of collaboration can be found in their paper:  

Laura J. Perovich, Sara Wylie, Roseann Bongiovanni (2018) Pokémon Go, pH, and projectors: Applying transformation design and participatory action research to an environmental justice collaboration in Chelsea, MA, Cogent Arts & Humanities, 5:1, 1-22. (Link to PDF.) 

In July of 2018, the team began to collaborate with high school students and staff at the Microsoft Garage Makerspace to test the ease of fabrication of SeeBoat in a more general audience and to continue development of the SeeBoat Android app for numeric data display. 

Thanks to ECO, David Ortiz, Adela Gonzalez, Leo Martinez, GreenRoots staff, Don Blair, Catherine D’Ignazio, the Boston University Law Clinic, and Dr. Sharon Harlan for their support and input on this project. Thanks to MIT undergraduates Sophia Struckman, Rod Bayliss, Robert Henning, and Claudia Chen who contributed to the technical aspect of these workshops and citizen science tool development, photographers Jorge Valdez and Shirin Adhami,  the Wylie Lab at Northeastern University, Dr. V. Michael Bove and members of the Object-Based Media group at the MIT Media Lab, the MIT Arts Scholars, the Public Lab community,  Mare Librum, the MIT Sailing Pavilion, and the Council for the Arts at MIT.

Research Topics
#art #environment #sensors