The massive cicada bloom that spread across the eastern seaboard this spring is winding down, but its end heralds another gradually emerging entity: citizen sensing. The Cicada Tracker—a community data-gathering initiative for documenting the noisy insects’ emergence from their burrows—was a rousing success, and it should encourage data innovators across the country to think about what a few motivated citizens and some commodity hardware can do for their communities.
The tracker was devised at a hackathon by John Keefe, a data journalist working for New York public radio station WNYC. The device was a simple piece of open hardware, consisting of an Arduino microcontroller, a temperature sensor, LEDs, resistors and wiring.
For around $80 and some careful construction, it enabled ordinary folks to measure soil temperature, which is a reliable indicator for exactly when the cicadas will surface. After measuring the temperature, people could then send that data—along with their locations and eventually any cicada sightings—to the WNYC team, who created an interactive map to visualize the emerging swarm.
Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab reports that the Cicada Tracker …