Sure, there are plenty of consumer-focused gadgets in our Insert Coin competition. But at least one group has a much more altruistic vision. Public Lab wants everyone to have a spectrometer in their home that allows people to detect pollutants in their environment. The heart of the Homebrew Oil Testing kit is simple enough: a refractor that attaches to the camera on your phone. The cheapo version can be made from a DVD and a folded-up piece of cardboard, but there's also a heavier duty plastic model in the works. The other hardware component is a simple light source. In this case: a Blu-ray laser. If you want to know what sort of foreign substances are floating around in your water, you shine the light through a sample of it and into the spectrometer strapped to your phone.
Of course, most people have no idea how to read the raw data from a spectrometer. So a big part of the project is an open-source database of contaminants, chemicals and other substances. SpectralWorkbench.org isn't exactly a brand-new tool, but it's one that still needs considerable work. While there are plenty of other uses for spectrometers, Public Lab is focusing on oil first, which was inspired by the disaster at the Deepwater Horizon rig run by BP. The hope is that this will raise awareness of the pollutants that are everywhere, and enable the citizens to hold businesses more accountable for the damage they do to our environment. Check out the video below where Jeffrey Warren gives you the 60-second pitch.
Edgar Alvarez contributed to this report.