Crowdsourcing groundwater monitoring in the parts of Boston built atop wooden pilings sunk into landfill

Well cap

The Boston Sun reports on a pilot project by the Boston Groundwater Trust to use Bluetooth-enabled well caps and a mobile app to better monitor the levels of groundwater that keep the wooden pilings that support hundreds of buildings in the Back Bay, the South End, the Fenway and Beacon Hill from collapsing.

Many of the homes (and some larger structures, such as Trinity Church) in those neighborhoods sit on wooden pilings that have to be kept wet to keep them from being attacked by wood-munching microorganisms. In the LightWell project, the trust is installing special well caps that will update the water levels in the wells they cover once an hour - and let people with the app on their phones collect the data:

Digitally fabricated out of translucent Corian, the new well caps will house LED lights and a microcontroller that is connected to a depth sensor 30 feet below grade. The sensor will be reading and logging groundwater continuously. Every hour, it will provide a reading with a scrolling message by an LED matrix. Users will be able to use the free mobile app to get the reading and push it to an cloud storage database. This leverages the public's mobile phones to crowd-source the real-time data, turning their devices into tools of citizen science.

For now, the caps will be rotated among several blocks in the neighborhoods.



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    Very cool

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    Downloaded the app. Very neat application of technology.

    Thanks for posting Adam!

    It's also the wrong technology.

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    You don't need bluetooth when you use the proper radio network - LoRa would have done just fine for this.

    It's a pilot

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    If you have a better idea call the groundwater trust and let them know about it.

    I did try to get it to work at lunchtime but without apparent success. It paired with the bluetooth, but didn't seem to upload data. Will try another location later.

    My guess is BTLE was more

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    My guess is BTLE was more accessible and cost effective. Less proprietary tech to deal with and you can crowdsource the network (although a mesh net may have been better for reliability - haven't checked if one exists but don't see a reason why it can't be implemented over BT though)

    Many houses in East Boston

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    Many houses in East Boston sit on wood pilings, especially in the flats section of Eastie, flats section was all filled land just like the back bay, just a few years ago brick buildings on a portion of a Chelsea Street block were torn down , and a few buildings just around the corner on Bremen street between Gove and Porter streets look as if they are sinking..

    On the muck

    The massive brownstone Arlington Street Church rests on mud and water. It was the first public building on the Back Bay (dedicated 1861) and stands on 999 pilings driven into the mud beneath. They physically go down periodically and check the condition of the wood pilings.

    By the bye, its steeple is the point of variance for all new construction in the Back Bay.

    Tippy top

    The top of the steeple is the point of reference for new construction. Builders must get variance to go above that.

    There's a little architectural joke here. The very top of the steeple blew off in a hurricane long ago, so that missing measurement is added on paper to the figure. Refer to the great Rev. George Whitehouse, the ASC's historian, for details.