O’Reilly UK’s own Craig Smith caught up with Alasdair Allan, author of Learning iPhone Programming and the online masterclass Making use of iPhone and iPad Location Sensors. Although Alasdair is known to some as an iPhone developer, he’s also an astronomer, Perl hacker, and uses Arduino to do science to things:
The Hollywood version of a laboratory is far too polished, you’re far more likely to see one-off pieces of hardware held together by spot welds, gaffer tape and luck. They probably look like most hacker spaces you’re familiar with except with institutional decorating. Most laboratory physicists are makers. Astronomers spend more time with computers than physicists, so most astronomers are hackers.
A lot of the commentators make the point that doing “real” science at home is pretty much impossible now due to the need for expensive equipment, and decades of experience. As a professional scientist I think that’s nonsense.
Amongst other emerging tools the Arduino platform has made building cheap sensor platforms within the easy reach of amateurs, and professionals, alike. One of the projects I’ll be talking about in the book is a pollution detecting hoodie which live logs geo-located level of pollutants to the Internet and alerts you to increased local pollution with embedded LEDs. You could imagine if they became widespread you could have a more advanced version that, either over mesh networking or perhaps Bluetooth, had peer-to-peer connectivity and stopped you going down streets that other people had already found to be too polluted.