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MIT staff blogger Dave McOwen

Cool Toys II by Dave McOwen

Using household items to save the world

How are you planning to spend the day? Jeffrey Warren, a Media Arts and Science grad student who works on Grassroots Mapping, and Oliver Yeh, one of the MIT students who in September launched a $150 camera balloon into near space, will be photographing the spreading oil slick in Louisiana with tethered aerial camera rigs they built using plastic garbage bags, a commercial point-and-shoot camera, and some helium. Each rig costs less than $100, and will help monitor the oil spill’s impact at a level of detail that exceeds what satellites can provide.

Working with local activist groups and residents, he hopes to empower people to monitor the coast with balloon cameras for months — or as long as it takes for the impacts of the oil spill to dissipate, he said.

“If we do it now, it’s a relatively low cost, and it’s a time commitment, but if we get out and begin mapping, we’ll have that data at a later date — when we wish we had it, perhaps,” he said.

He got this idea by working with a fellow MIT student who has been flying untethered balloons nearly to the edge of space, sending back photos over a cell phone — partly just for the fun of it.

“It’s the first time we’re working together as kind of a concerted effort. We’re applying these tools not just as hobbyists or enthusiasts but applying them to a specific social and environmental goal,” he said.

“This is one area where we’re able to make an impact.”

You can read the full story on CNN.

6 responses to “Cool Toys II”

  1. Cam says:

    Whoa, my GRT is on CNN. o.O

  2. Steph says:

    That’s pretty awesome. I would like to see how those pictures turn out.

  3. genius ('18) says:

    An observation balloon for $150-ish? WOW!!!!!! MIT is AMAZING!

  4. @ Steph

    They already have some up at the Grassroots site!

    @ Armin

    There’s a nice photo in the CNN article, and lots of photos of other aerial camera projects at the grassroots site.

  5. Armin says:

    How big are the balloons? How thick?

    150$ is whole different from what Professor Lewin did. Cigar-paper thick and hanging the camera with parachute to save it after the giant balloon boooooms.

    How is it, how is it, how is it?

    May be the toy up there can tweet what it observes, like Snively’s bot smile

    ReCaptcha: Roxy Citizens

  6. Set your life easier take the loan and all you want.