A friend of mine has recently let me borrow a Raspberry Pi, a tiny, ultra-cheap computer that uses an SD card for a hard drive and uses a mini-USB cord for power. It runs either their Debian distro (Raspbian) or Arch without much trouble.

I’ve been thinking of cool things to do with it. There are a number of pretty cool projects that folks have done with a little bit of wiring and elbow grease. These are no doubt amazing and worthy of much geek admiration. I’ve been trying to think of something novel to do with mine. Matt and I thought we were on to something when we discussed a cat toy that would change direction when it hit a wall.

I put the little DC motor away when I realized that there’s probably some nifty social scientific data that can be had by a tiny computing device with a portable power source and USB wireless card. Asking Twitter about what one could do here, David Masad suggested replicating this study which estimates crowds using dropped wireless packets. A few other ideas I’ve had suggest that using an infrared sensor could count foot traffic in particular areas, sensors hooked up next to a door to get data on entering and leaving a room, or a sound monitor that collects data on voice interaction. Of course, some of these suggestions get dangerously close to violating individual privacy and disclosure, so the more that these sensors make people anonymous the better.

So, tossing this idea out to Bad Hessian readers — what would be some other “unobtrusive methods” that could be leveraged with a tiny computer and some simple sensors?

  • Trey

    I don’t have immediate ideas, but related work that springs to mind is the repurposing of Palm Pilots to serve as survey data collection devices in the field (being used a lot in Africa) and James Kitts (and colleagues) are using sensing data to model social networks.

  • Gabriel

    Check out how Arbitron uses the Portable People Meter for ideas.