Snout is a “participatory sensing project being developed by the London arts consultancy Proboscis and partners (Birkbeck College and inIVA). It builds on earlier work which they’ve done on local and community mapping but has the potential to be far more radical. Snout has built prototypes of two carnival costumes (one of which is a nine foot high Mr Punch) which incorporate the mobile technologies needed to sense multiple forms of environmental pollution, record the data, and map it to a location.

Last Tuesday (10th April), they took the costumes out for a walk around Shoreditch and Hoxton (there are many photos on Flickr), and followed this with a seminar which discussed the implications. I wasn’t able to stay for the seminar, but the walk was interesting. (Probosics is good at publishing its work, so there is likely to be a report of it on their site in due course).

The sensors gather information on carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and noise levels, and these are displayed live on light displays on the costumes. They are also recorded on a mobile computer carried within the costume. Snout has built a Linux-based platform, built on what it calls ‘scavenger’ technologies, to do this.

What interests me about this is that the types of pollution that they’re investigating are either invisible (carbon monoxide) or overlooked (noise) and generally fall most heavily on poorer communities. The combination of portable computers and mapping technologies makes them more visible and usable by the communities they affect.

In this, it has similarities with the work of the French arts group Hehe – see for example their street installation ‘Bruit Rose‘ (pink noise) which displays noise levels.