This week in our Emerging Media Platforms class at Syracuse, I loved learning about sensor journalism and was enthralled with WNYC’s cicada tracking project.

In 2013, 1,500 people paid $80 each for a homemade sensor that used an arduino, an open source microcontroller, to measure the ground temperatures from Georgia to Connecticut to predict when the cicadas would emerge. This is a big, bug deal because they only come out every 17 years in the eastern portion of the United States.

That was such a great idea by the public radio station in western New York to engage with their listeners and a cool way to get kids interested in science.

Their cicada tracker inspired me to dream up using color sensors and arduinos to track the fall foliage season in New England.

In New England in the fall, we’re all about following the foliage, and I love photographing the changing leaves.



In 2014, the Associated Press estimated that the millions of “leaf peepers” who come to New England to see the changing fall colors bring in at least $3 billion in tourism revenue.

What if a news outlet like The Boston Globe encouraged readers to make a homemade sensor that could track the changes in color on the leaves in their yards and nearby woods in real time. Then leaf peepers would know when to go where to see the most vibrant colors.

The various state tourism departments and many news outlets already publish maps that show you which areas will be at peak color during which weeks in the fall. This might make the maps more accurate.

I’m no expert at how to build a sensor or program an arduino, but you can buy a small RGB Light Sensor like this one at SparkFun Electronics for just $7.95. SparkFun says the breakout board makes it easy to sense and record the light intensity of the general red, green and blue spectrums of visible light while rejecting infrared light.

It seems like it might work. Getting people to install the sensors and report in to the Globe would be a fun, engaging way to appreciate this annual display of beauty and might even build loyalty for the newspaper.


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