Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Google Glass app I want made: carbon emissions viewer

Google showed off a few sample apps for its augmented reality Google Glass at the SXSW festival this week, and the apps were pretty obvious ones, including being able to view select headlines from the New York Times, checking out your Path photos and being able to read your emails. And while I know most of the early apps built are going to be like this - services help people manage their digital communication - I really want an app that helps people see the world differently and potentially help with important global issues like climate change.

That's why I really want a concerned and passionate developer to build a carbon emissions viewer for Google Glass. The concept could be pretty simple. The app would take objects - from cars to buildings to cell phones - that use electricity or oil and overlay them with data or imagery about how much carbon, or greenhouse gases, they are emitting.

Depending on how the developer wanted to visualize the data, the app could show an infographic, graphics that look like smoke clouds, or just a couple of basic data points. Most of this type of data is out there and being collected by energy software companies, government institutions, nonprofits utilities and others.

Companies that collect such data have long tried to figure out creative ways to make data about carbon emissions interesting, provocative, compelling and cool. Grist's David Roberts blogged about the rare non-sucky infographic on climate change this week. The Victorian Government created this video campaign to illustrate carbon emissions as black balloons a few years ago.

If there was a super compelling visual rendering of greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps that would help more people galvanize around carbon emissions reducing projects and technologies, like lower emissions cars, and energy efficient buildings. These types of projects and technologies are pretty boring, and unless there's some way that they can be made more compelling, they'll continued to be under investigated and under funded.

Another inherent problem with climate change and carbon emissions is that emissions can't be seen by the human eye, so they are easy for people to dismiss. Pollutants that produce smog, or smoke, or make water dirty, are far easier to get people to rally behind, because there's constant visual proof. There's proof for carbon emissions, of course too, but you need instruments like Picarro's emissions detecting sensors.

There's already some websites and smart phone apps that are trying to make a similar idea to this carbon emissions viewer. There's CO2GO, a mobile app that calculates in real-time the carbon emissions of a user while you're on the go. And there's 3D visualizations like the carbon emissions globe. But placing this data over the eye, so that it becomes ingrained in daily life, could be even more powerful.

O.K., so such a carbon emissions app wouldn't be something you'd want to use or wear all the time. Or very often. It'd be more like an educational tool or a art project. But I think it would be important.

So calling all developers. There's some data sourcing and UI work you'd need to figure out, but anyone up for a carbon emissions viewer Google Glass app?

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