Going with the flow: Bluedot festival 2018

Grantham Scholars went to Bluedot 2018 to showcase their research into the urban environment. With them was MOBIUS – a mobile tracking vehicle made by Urban Flows Observatory.

Our Ling Min Tan, Jonathan Sykes and Saeed Wazed all went to Bluedot, here they report back on what they did.

Bluedot festival at Jodrell Bank

Bluedot is an award-winning weekend of discovery at Jodrell Bank deep space observatory. It brings together music, science, arts, culture and the exploration of space to inspire the scientists of the future. Attending gave us Grantham Scholars the opportunity to engage with a diverse audience.

This year about 10,000 people attended. Headlining bands included the Flaming Lips and the Chemical Brothers. Casetteboy and Rob Kemp were among the comedy offerings. For science enthusiasts, there were talks by Richard Dawkins, Jim Al-Khalili, Tim O’Brien, the Jodrell Bank scientists and our very own Professor Martin Mayfield from the University of Sheffield.

Our team

Close to a large model globe, the science and engineering exhibits were located at the Planet Field. Our team was joined by fellow PhD Said Munir and MEng student Qianqian Li who volunteered to assist us with the demonstrations. Last but not the least, we were supported by the Chief Technical Officer and the man behind the construction of the MOBIUS van, Steve Jubb.

The MOBIUS van: tracking environmental data in cities

MOBIUS was created in order to make gathering environmental data from cities less expensive. Currently, the van is kitted with environment monitoring equipment such as air quality monitors, particulate monitoring systems, gas monitors and weather stations. The van is also equipped with a 9m mast! This can measure air quality monitoring up to 3 storeys high.

The van was created to gather environmental data less expensively. Usually monitoring urban environments is expensive because the systems needed to do it cost a lot. To get detailed environmental data of an area can cost hundreds of thousands.

A more efficient solution can be to use less expensive equipment to do an initial scan of an area. While the data from the less expensive equipment is also less accurate, it will provide a general idea of where the problematic areas are for pollution or energy losses.

Once these areas are identified, a mobile unit such as the MOBIUS van can then be driven to them to get precise recordings. The van can also be used to validate environmental models that are created from the analysis of the data and calibration of other monitoring equipment.

Using the MOBIUS van at Bluedot

At the Bluedot festival we monitored gasses e.g. carbon monoxide, ozone and nitrous oxides. We also measured particulate matter ranging from 1 micron to 10 microns. And we took weather measurements like humidity, pressure, temperature, wind speed and rainfall. By gathering and displaying real time data throughout the day we were able to show people how weather patterns and the surroundings affected the space around us.

Top: Images taken with handheld Thermal Imaging Camera. Bottom: Images taken with plugged-in thermal imaging device

But what really brought in the crowds was their chance to interact with the equipment on the van. Thermal imaging cameras and virtual reality headsets were especially popular.

How hot are you?

Thermal imaging devices are used to detect flows of energy, such as insulation losses in buildings. At Bluedot, we showcased 2 types of thermal imaging devices. One was a standard handheld device with point and shoot capability. Another could be plugged into hand held devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

In the future, the data obtained through thermal imaging and Lidar detection will be mapped onto Google maps. As a result we’ll have a virtual ‘real-time’ overview of an area. Then engineers, designers and city planners could all make quick site surveys remotely and come up with solutions faster.

Future cities need data

The main message we tried to get across at Bluedot is that we must design cities so that people can live in them easily. People should not have to travel far to get to work, shops, or green spaces. And we need to do it in a manner cares for the environment. In order to do this, we need to gather large scale city wide data.

The Urban Flow Observatory will gather this data and make it public. Then scientists and organisations can analyse and critique each other’s analyses. Ideally, then they can come to a consensus about issues affecting our surrounding – and hopefully solutions too.

Churros and slime

Everyone worked hard throughout Bluedot. We all put in 10 hour shifts every day and camped on site. So at the end we rewarded ourselves with some amazing churros and a day off for resting and recuperating.

Looking back, the event was a great success. People in general really understood the importance of gathering data to improve our cities and lauded our efforts. With our interactive demonstrations we also got a lot of interest from the younger, tech savvy demographic. However, in terms of impact we may have beaten by a bunch of chemical engineers making slime!

Main image shows the team from left to right in front of the MOBIUS van: Ling Min Tan, Said Munir, Saeed Wazed, Qianqian Li, Jonathan Sykes and Steve Jubb

Edited by Claire Moran