Unleash Your Citizen Scientist with Breezefinder, by Alexa Forney


After several years in Philadelphia—where street-level wind tunnels are famous for tearing apart umbrellas during rainstorms—first-year designer Alexa Forney wondered why we weren't making better use of the brute forces unleashed by the weather. Aiming to change the way we visualize wind energy, she developed Breezefinder, a citizen science tool to help locate where wind energy is underutilized.

Breezefinder logs windspeed data wherever it goes, reading kinetic energy through its anemometer on top. When it detects wind speeds high enough to support an energy-producing wind turbine, the device sends its GPS location and wind speed to Twitter.

 

As more data comes in from the Breezefinder project, it will become possible to visually map locations where wind energy is possible. Then you can strategically think about urban turbine placement.

 

As a sustainable source of energy, wind power has been extremely limited by the available turbine technology. But recent improvements in vertical-axis turbine design now allow more multidirectional winds to generate energy—i.e. the chaotic gusts that occur in urban settings. "Part of the reason we don't have more urban wind energy is that the technology to take advantage of it is so new. But part of it is the lack of data out there," argues Alexa. "Big business isn't going out surveying the city for wind energy, and municipalities aren't going to look into it without a big shift in policy. So it's up to ordinary citizens to ensure that this data is available."

 

"Big business isn't going out surveying the city for wind energy, and municipalities aren't going to look into it without a big shift in policy. So it's up to ordinary citizens to ensure that this data is available."

 

Looking to citizen science for answers to this challenge, Alexa envisioned a device that could log data on the go—for all to see and use. Possibilities for Breezefinder are as vast as municipal energy planning, and as small as teaching schoolchildren about sustainable energy. As more data comes in from the Breezefinder project, it will become possible to visually map locations where wind energy harvesting makes the most sense.
 

One of the biggest challenges was working with code and technology that was new to the consumer market—particularly the FONA 808 board that pushes the wind data to Twitter. "I essentially had to build my own cell phone before I could figure out the GPS and SMS technology that runs Breezefinder," explains Alexa, shaking her head! "Like any citizen science project, it’s a work in progress."

 

"With the data Breezefinder collects, we could change the way we see the invisible energy around us. It could be a real force for change."

 

Though still in development, Alexa hopes to launch a beta test of Breezefinder by 2017. "With the data Breezefinder collects, we could change the way we see the invisible energy around us," she says. "It could be a real force for change."