New School News

Citizen Sensor: Wearable Technology Goes Green

Citizen Sensor info graphic designed by Joseph Saavedra.

You’re walking down Fifth Avenue going about your daily routine. A small sensor pack is fitted neatly on your body, monitoring air quality, UV levels, noise pollution, and other environmental factors. This is the vision behind Citizen Sensor, the thesis project of MFA Design and Technology graduate Joseph Saavedra ’10, which recently won the prestigious Cologne International Design Prize. This is the third year the prize has been presented by the K√∂ln International School of Design (KISD) and the third year a Parsons student has won the top honor.

The wearable device collects environmental data and transmits it to an online database, where users can share and connect with others around the world. “I want to empower the general public to be able to measure an invisible world in a way that can benefit everyone,” said Saavedra about his project.

Saavedra developed the project under the guidance of thesis instructor and interactive designer Marko Tandefelt. “Gaining a deeper understanding of where we live, work and play is important in making improvements to our environment, our health, and our community,” Saavedra said. “By making Citizen Sensor a global project, we can learn to relate to each other the different ways we live, and ultimately improveand grow in a socially responsible way.”

Saavedra designed Citizen Sensor as a DIY, open-source kit that users can “hack” in order to customize it, both in terms of aesthetics and the pollutants that are measured. He will use $11,000 prize to develop a limited run of the kits, as well as a solar version he is designing in collaboration with faculty member Joel Murphy.

This past summer, Saavedra collaborated with the New York Hall of Science to incorporate Citizen Sensor into its educational programs, and the project was featured in the New York Times Magazine. The collaboration was initiated through the New Youth City Learning Network, a consortium of cultural institutions facilitated by Parsons and the Social Science Research Council that is exploring digital forms of learning.

Citizen Sensor is one of several wearable technology projects Saavedra developed while at Parsons, where he now teaches. His projects also include an “EKG Hoodie” that features an infrared heartbeat monitor. He will be presenting his work on November 19 as part of the Functional Aesthetics Conference at Parsons. For more information, visit the New School events calendar.

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