Sensor Data from Pachube

Collect Streaming Facts from Around the World

Science and mathematics instruction benefits greatly from having real world data and problems with which to work. 
The map on the left marks sensors from around the world that continually transmit their data to (partial screenshot on left), the "YouTube" of sensor sites that is just beginning its life on the Web. Some sensors are fixed and others are mobile, on ships, floating buoys or migrating animals. Only the 600 most recently active sensors from thousands actually show on the map to reduce visual clutter but the others are searchable. Sensor data collection is to science what a calculator is to mathematics,  a power tool that magnifies what teachers and students can accomplish in the short time of class sessions. Naturally, both reinforce each other.

You won't believe how easy this is to include graphed sensor data in your own Web page compositions, though some Web browsers cause some odd graph displays at this time when inserted using the Pachube gadget from Google Sites. This site and process makes it ideal for sharing experimental data and research projects across classrooms, schools and the globe. Any group of students or educators can create their own Globe project at any geographic scale.

To add sensor data to a Web page in Google Sites, click the sensor icons on the map and find and record the number of the sensor datastream at Pachube. Though a full screen movie that walks through this entire process is below, a short text description here may be sufficient for some. Next,  at Google Sites use the Insert command on a page being editing and search Gadgets for Pachube and insert. Here's one below from a hothouse in Canada! Another example follows. feeds

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"Bhut Jolokia Pepper Plant, currently:   live . Bhut Jolokia - the hottest pepper plant known to man at over 1 million Scoville Units is also one of the hardest to grow. This project aims to grow, monitor, and maximize this infamous pepper plant." I find it fascinating that a company is working to grow this plant in the northern climate of western Canada at the southern edge of the city of Calgary. It must be a well insulated green house. Pictures of them growing, though not in Canada, can be found here. If you click on one of the graphs above it takes you to its page at Pachube. On this Pachube page, under the thumbnail graphs, click on "embed, history, triggers, etc". This takes you to other options that provides ways for downloading data for display and graphing in Microsoft Excel. That is, take the Web addresses after History and Archive on Pachube's sensor pages and paste them into a browser. Wait a moment and when the data appears save it to the computer as a text file. Use the import command in Excel to move the data into the spreadsheet.

Math/Science/Social Studies/Language Arts Lesson

The challenge for educators is to see a way to use the sensor data for lessons in the classroom. A YouTube screen movie below follows this text discussion. 

The energy sensor data at Pachube creates opportunities for thematic discussions across subject levels. For example, if the subject is climate and what to do about rising temperatures, that's become a huge social studies debate topic on the political scene which connects to mathematics and science knowledge with plenty to read and discuss.  Zooming around the map to understand where the sensor is located gets in some geography study as well. 

To connect this to a more personal level it would be nice to connect this with the home costs for each student. Money saved on cooling or heating a home is money that can be spent on other things. A quick language arts activity would be to research what the local utility company is charging per watt or kilowatt and create a quick report on other advice they are providing on lowering costs. The Cornhusker Power site is just one that reviews watt and kilowatt costs.

Math and science classes would like to have real data to work with. To test what you learned above, use what you learned in the section on Collecting Facts from Around the World in the section above. The example used in here from Pachube # 2788 from Swindon in southern England. Pick your own number from a site of interest then follow these steps if you have a Google Sites account inserting your number where mine is given as example.

The Steps
  1. Use the Google Sites gadget to put the graphs from a Pachube site (such as 2788, pick your own) on your own Web page. 
  2. Create a page and add some text that explains how the data would be used for class curriculum goals in various content areas that come to mind. For example, this site provides some mathematics activity. Though costs would likely be different in England, if the Cornerhusker costs were used, how much would that English home be charged per day in American dollars and month for electricity based on the sensor reported  electrical wattage used? Can you find the wattage costs for where you live and if so how would those charges change the result?
  3. Add some further text about what your students do with the raw data from the site. For example, for some non-fiction writing, download and graph this data in Microsoft Excel and copy the graph into Microsoft Word and write a short essay based on the questions in the next item.
  4. Further reflection and research: What is the relationship between temperature and electrical usage? Why? What would it cost to hook up such sensor systems to your own home? What steps would need to be taken to do that? If you could see the impact of reducing electrical usage graphed on a computer screen in your own home, would you use less electricity?
This YouTube video does a walk-through of finding, inserting and graphing the data in Excel. Though you can play the squinty-eyed size clip on this page, I find it shows better if you use the display at the YouTube site. There you can change the view to 720p (high density) and enlarge to fill your screen.

Yusing Sensor Data

Upload Your Own Sensor Data to Pachube

But who wants to always have to use someone else's sensor data? The next step on this page is to add a 'project cost spreadsheet' and a tutorial on how to get our own sensor data on the Pachube map for sharing and team activities, to create sensor nets through the work of many classes scattered around a region or the globe. The promise of the Internet of Things (Vasseur, 2010) with its almost infinite number of  IPv6 addresses and 6lowpan layer is that sensor use will become much more widespread and consequently the needed technology should steadily drop in price.

I see the connection of our own sensors happening in different ways. One is to work with companies that already provide a range of sensors for educators and merely need to add some lines of code to the software that they are already shipping that would provide a checkbox spot to set up a Pachube feed. This would include educationally focused sensor product companies such as Vernier, Data HarvestPasco, Texas Instruments, Fourier and the  Lego's robotics lines. This would also include interesting vendors such as Sensorex, Global Water, Emerson, Vegetronix and numerous others. As we have many Vernier and Lego sensors, I've started a discussion with Vernier on December 3, 2010 and Fourier on Dec 7. I'll let you know how quickly this goes. Note that if you have an older version of the Lego NXT software, it is most worthwhile to update as data logging features are now built in. Further, combinations of these products are in play, as in this plant watering system that integrates a Vernier moisture sensor with Lego hardware and NXT software designs.

Another approach is to build it yourself. For the "Make It" crowd, there are also a growing number of directions on the Pachube site for lower cost but more time consuming ways to get into the game. If someone creates a Web page chart to compare costs, time to get functioning, etc., across these different options please put a link in the comments box below.

I could also see each of these companies creating a similar service on their own Web site, but that would seem an anti-social approach for educators wanting to do global projects as sensors from different companies will be in different classrooms. A simple solution would be to provide options for both.

Note the comments box below. Thoughtful contributions are always welcome.


Vasseur, JP; Dunkels, A. (2010). Interconnecting Smart Objects with IP-The Next InternetMorgan Kaufmann.