Friday, November 10, 2017

Sensors in a Shoebox project empowers Detroit youth to rediscover their city


Detroit adolescents from Voyageur Academy and the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation are working with the School of Education and the College of Engineering to track activity in the city. Data collection takes place through surveys and the use of devices that measure activity in a given area. These devices are “sensors in a shoebox,” and they were created and customized by an interdisciplinary team of U-M engineers and educators.

The goal of the Sensors in a Shoebox project is to empower Detroit’s young residents to observe their own neighborhoods. In its pilot phase, project participants are using the sensors to record foot traffic on the Detroit RiverWalk in order to determine its most popular areas. The rugged sensors are able to record city noise, vibrations, and motion. Sensor data is then stored and displayed on Twitter. This creates a social media feed as well as a data presentation that is familiar to the young people involved in the data collection and analysis.

“This is a terrific example of how partnering within the university and with the community can lead to innovations that have a real impact on people’s lives,” explains Dean Elizabeth Moje, who co-leads the project with Jerome Lynch, chair and professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. While his team built and demonstrated the kits, her team of graduate students taught the Detroit teens about surveys and observation strategies.

The project gives the young citizens of Detroit some opportunities they might not have otherwise had. Voyageur freshman Eddy Bassett, Jr. explains: “I love science and I love collecting data. I just never had the ability to do it because I don’t have the money. This project makes me feel like I’m able to help make the city better.” Not only does the project help Detroit youth understand their city more, but it also helps them hone communication, science, technology, research, and leadership skills. The flexibility of the sensors and surveys also makes it possible for teens to collect data to answer their own research questions.

Future plans include developing and deploying more advanced sensors to gain a better understanding of traffic and air quality in different neighborhoods. This project was a winner of the 2016 Knight Cities Challenge, which funds the project in collaboration with the National Science Foundation.

Elizabeth Birr Moje is George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Education and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor; Dean of the School of Education

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