Today I gave short presentation at the Citizen Science Koppelting conference in Amersfoort. Below is the transcript and the slidedeck.

I’ve worked on opening data, mainly with governments worldwide for the past decade. Since 2 years I’ve been living in Amersfoort, and since then I’ve been a participant in the Measure Your City network, with a sensor kit. I also run a LoRaWan gateway to provide additional infrastructure to people wanting to collect sensor data. Today I’d like to talk to you about using open data. What it is, what exists, where to find it, and how to get it. Because I think it can be a useful resource in citizen science.

What is open data? It is data that is published by whoever collected it in such a way, so that anyone is permitted to use it. Without any legal, technical or financial barriers.

This means an open license, such as Creative Commons 0, open standards, and machine readable formats.
Anyone can publish open data, simply by making it available on the internet. And plenty people, academics, and companies do. But mostly open data means we’re looking at government for data.

That’s because we all have a claim on our government, we are all stakeholders. We already paid for the data as well, so it’s all sunk costs, while making it available to all as infrastructure does not increase the costs a lot. And above all: governments have many different tasks, and therefore lots of different data. Usually over many years and at relatively good quality.

The legal framework for open data consists of two parts. The national access to information rules, in NL the WOB, which says everything government has is public, unless it is not.
And the EU initiated regulation on re-using, not just accessing, government material. That says everything that is public can be re-used, unless it can’t. Both these elements are passive, you need to request material.

A new law, the WOO, makes publication mandatory for more things. (For some parts publication is already mandated in laws, like in the WOB, the Cadastre law, and the Company Register)

Next to that there are other elements that play a role. Environmental data must be public (Arhus convention), and INSPIRE makes it mandatory for all EU members to publish certain geographic data. A new EU directive is in the works, making it mandatory for more organisations to publish data, and for some key data sets to be free of charge (like the company register and meteo data)

Next to the legal framework there are active Dutch policies towards more open data: the Data Agenda and the Open Government action plan.

The reason open data is important is because it allows people to do new things, and more importantly it allows new people, who did not have that access before, to do new things. It democratises data sources, that were previously only available to a select few, often those big enough to be able to pay for access. This has now been a growing movement for 10-15 years.

That new agency has visible effects. Economically and socially.In fact you probably already use open data on a daily basis without noticing. When you came here today by bike, you probably checked Buienradar. Which is based on the open data of the KNMI. Whenever in Wikipedia you find additional facts in the right hand column, that informations doesn’t come from Wikipedia but is often directly taken from government databases. The same is true for a lot of the images in Wikipedia, of monuments, historic events etc. They usually come from the open collections of national archives, etc.

When Google presents you with traffic density, like here the queues in front of the traffic lights on my way here, it’s not Google’s data. It’s government data, that is provided in near real-time from all the sensors in the roads. Google just taps into it, and anyone could do the same.You could do the same.

There are many big and small data sets that can be used for a new specific purpose. Like when you go to get gas for the car. You may have noticed at manned stations it takes a few seconds for the gas pump to start? That’s because they check your license plate against the make of the car, in the RDW’s open database. Or for small practical issues. Like when looking for a new house, how much sunshine does the garden get. Or can I wear shorts today (No!).

But more importantly for today’s discussion, It can be a powerful tool for citizen scientists as well. Such as in the public discussion about the Groningen earth quakes. Open seismological data allowed citizens to show their intuition that the strength and frequency of quakes was increasing was real. Using open data by the KNMI.Or you can use it to explore the impact of certain things or policies like analysing the usage statistics of the Utrecht bicycle parking locations.A key role open data can play is to provide context for your own questions. Core registers serve as infrastructure, key datasets on policy domains can be the source for your analysis. Or just a context or reference.

Here is a range of examples. The AHN gives you heights of everything, buildings, landscape etc.
But it also allows you to track growth of trees etc. Or estimate if your roof is suitable for solar panels.This in combination with the BAG and the TOP10NL makes the 3d image I started with possible. To construct it from multiple data sources: it is not a photograph but a constructed image.

The Sentinel satellites provide you with free high resolution data. Useful for icebreakers at sea, precision agriculture, forest management globally, flooding prevention, health of plants, and even to see if grasslands have been damaged by feeding geese or mice. Gas mains maintainer Stedin uses this to plan preventative maintenance on the grid, by looking for soil subsidence. Same is true for dams, dikes and railroads. And that goes for many other subjects. The data is all there. Use it to your advantage. To map your measurements, to provide additional proof or context, to formulate better questions or hypotheses.

It can be used to build tools that create more insigt. Here decision making docs are tied to locations. 38 Amersfoort council issues are tied to De Koppel, the area we are in now. The same is true for many other subjects. The data is all there. Use it to your advantage. To map your measurements, to provide additional proof or context, to formulate better questions or hypotheses.

Maybe the data you need isn’t public yet. But it might be. So request it. It’s your right. Think about what data you need or might be useful to you.
Be public about your data requests. Maybe we can for a Koppelting Data Team. Working with data can be hard and disappointing, doing it together goes some way to mitigate that.

[This post was created using a small hack to export the speaking notes from my slidedeck. Strangely enough, Keynote itself does not have such an option. Copying by hand takes time, by script it is just a single click. It took less than 10 minutes to clean up my notes a little bit, and then post the entire thing.]

This fall my Measure Your City sensor hub fell out of a tree during a storm. It seemed to be damaged, so I put it aside until I could think how or when to reinstate it. Later on I noticed from the log files that it seemed to have stopped working before it fell from the tree but I did not think it important. A few weeks ago I handed the sensor hub in with the team of Measure Your City that does repairs. It turns out the sensor hub was fully functional except for …. the batteries.

The problem was the firmware using too much battery power. Which is problematic given the stated aim of these LoRa sensors, to work on low power for a long time.
With a firmware upgrade and fresh batteries, the sensor hub is now back in action. The past day I’ve used it to measure the relative humidity in various rooms around the house as we suspected it might be too dry (it was, around 30-35% humidity). As there are 2 similar sensor hubs nearby, we are not without info on current outside conditions. I’ll reinstate the sensor hub outside again this weekend.

Meanwhile my own sensor hub as well as the two others a street away, use my recently installed The Things Network gateway to transport the data to the Measure Your City back-end. The gateway also sees several other sensors sending data through the gateway, although I don’t know what type of sensors those are.

Screenshot of the data passing through the gateway. The device in the first line is my own sensor hub.

After receiving the hardware for The Things Network, I now activated the gateway. I had first planned to run up a Cat6 to the top floor but I couldn’t successfully get the cable through the empty conduit that was available for that. Deciding not to wait until I get a cable through the conduit, I connected the Gateway to an ethernet port on the Netgear Orbi satellite that is installed on the top floor. This means it has a steady internet connection, even if not directly wired to the router yet.

The first few messages were sent, so now that ‘hello world’ is behind me, I am curious to see if there will be any traffic my gateway sees passing by.

Now that we moved from Enschede to Amersfoort two weeks ago, we are starting to participate in local activities. Today I joined a workshop to build a sensor-hut for the ‘Measure your city‘ project. Initiated by amongst others ‘De War‘, also the people who started FabLab Amersfoort, it is a project to crowdsource measurements to track climate and climate changes inside the city.

The national metereological institute does not measure inside cities as it does not provide data that can be compared with other measurements across the country. By building a dense grid of sensors across the city it becomes possible however to track the emergence of ‘heat islands’ or see how paving over gardens or making them greener influences the city’s microclimates.

The sensor-hub I built this afternoon is based on Arduino, and uses LoRaWan, by means of the The Things Network, to communicate. It currently holds sensors for temperature and humidity, but is prepared to also measure sunlight exposure, rain fall and soil humidity / aridity. It also has a GPS antenna, to capture the location of the device correctly.

It had been a good while since I last handled a soldering iron, but following the ‘fit for all’ building instructions after a while I ended up with a ready device. After loading the right software, it became sensor 51 in the Measure Your City network. The second stage was building a hut for the sensor device, so it measures adequately: shielded from direct sunlight, with air allowed to float around it. This so it matches up with the standards that normal metereological measurements adhere to. After a few hours me and half a dozen or so others had their own sensor-hut to install at home.


the finished device


the hut for the sensors

I haven’t properly installed the device yet: the hut still needs a white coat of paint to reflect sunlight, before mounting it in our garden at about 2 meters height. It is already taking measurements however, and it can be followed through the online database of the network’s measurements. If you look at the current data for my sensor 51, you see it also hasn’t measured its location yet. If that persists as I properly mount it outside, there might be something wrong with the GPS antenna. The temp readings are still in-house readings, and do not reflect outside temperatures.


hello world: first data log entries

I will be running a The Things Network gateway in the near future (when the Kickstarter project delivers) as well, and helped initiate a LoRaWan/The Things Network group in my previous home city Enschede. Building this sensor-hut is the first foray into exploring how I will use that cheap IoT infrastructure currently emerging in the Netherlands. I am looking to add other sensors, along the lines of what e.g. FabLab Barcelona and Waag Society have created with the smart citizen kit, or this project from Freiburg measuring particulate matter in the air.

UPDATE: GPS is working now that the sensor is placed outside. Still need to paint it white though.

Meetjestad.nl sensorhut
Sensor hut in its intended spot in the garden

Last Thursday the first TTN Enschede Meet-up was held. The Things Network (TTN) is an open infrastructure, using LoRaWan, which lets Internet of Things (IoT) devices communicate data to the cloud, from which it can be approached over regular internet connections.

What fascinates me in this, is that one can implement a city or region wide infrastructure for very little money, where normally the infrastructure is the expensive part. Especially after the TTN Amsterdam initiators ran a kickstarter campaign offering the gateways for just 200 Euro, last October. With several volunteers here in Enschede, we can quickly achieve city wide coverage, and open it up to all comers. And that is what is indeed happening, as it looks like at least 6 gateways will become available in the city soon. One gateway, which Timothy at Innovalor placed on top of the highrise of the University of Applied Sciences Saxion in the city center, is already operational, since last week. The rest will follow in June.

The meeting last Thursday of fifteen TTN and IoT interested people in Enschede was a good first encounter. Besides getting to know eachother, it was good to exchange ideas, experiences, and talk about what we could actually do once the infrastructure is in place.

As it turns out, thinking about use cases is not easy, and that will definitely need more thought and discussion.

Meanwhile one of the participants, JP, showed his LoRaWan device that measures signal strength of the mentioned gateway. On his mobile phone he combines those measurements with his phone’s GPS location. This way he built a signal strength map of the Saxion gateway while cycling around town over the course of his normal activities. The LoRaWan receiver and the map are shown below. As it turns out more people are currently doing this type of wardriving, trying to crowdsource a coverage map of the Netherlands.

LoRaWan wardriving results Enschede