Public Lab’s Crowdfunded Infragram Cameras Let People See Plants In A Different Light

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There’s no shortage of novel Kickstarter projects that aim to change how we think about the environment, but here’s one that could literally change how we look at it. Infragram, created by the civic science-minded folks at Public Lab puts low-cost infrared cameras into people’s hands so they can better understand the health of the plants around them.

The goal here is simple enough — by hacking these cameras to peer into the infrared (well, near-infrared) portion of the spectrum, Public Lab hopes to let users see how well plants are converting light into oxygen. The end result is a pair of images that, when processed properly, yield a single false-color image that shows off which plants (or parts of plants) are reflecting the most near-infrared light and are therefore absorbing the most red and blue light.

370b87f0daefa167722a3efd36f87a45_largeIn a bid to get as many people seeing plants in a different light as possible, the most rewarding tier will see backers at the $10 level receive a “superblue” filter that attaches onto existing digital cameras (here’s a list of cameras that seem to work well with the filter).

A contribution of $35 nets you the most basic hardware component of the bunch — a cheap webcam that works just as well when lashed to a Raspberry Pi as it does when hooked up to your laptop. $95 nets you something really interesting: a bespoke point-and-shoot 2-megapixel camera that already has one of those “superblue” sensors nestled inside it. Once backers start snapping photos of the local greenery, they’ll be able to upload them to a work-in-progress web service to get those false color images. The team is also working on a spate of analytical tools to cull more information from those images, so the curious nature nut can gain even more insight on the flora around them.

The Public Lab team is no stranger to these sorts of crowdfunded science projects — last year they successfully raised $110,000 for a homebrew spectometry kit that rather smartly relied on a shard of a DVD-R disc. This new project has only been live for five days, but a slew of enthusiastic backers has already brought the team within spitting distance of its $30,000 funding goal. With a month and a half left to go Public Labs is on track to have yet another crowdfunded scientific success on its hands — here’s hoping that some of those backers will put those Infragram camera in youngsters’ hands. After all, we could probably do with a new generation of young people that are sensitive to the plight of those poor plants.