$35 DIY Spectrometer Gets Its Own Collaborative Database

September 12, 2012 | 11:57
The Public Laboratory has built an open hardware $35 spectrometer. Now they’re running a crowdfunding project to realize an online library to analyze and share datasets.

The Public Lab is a collaborative community enabling people to explore and inspect their environment with DIY techniques. During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill they provided aerial mapping devices using balloons and kites so citizens could obtain contamination data independent of information provided by BP and the US government.

Now the Lab has provided an online manual on how to construct your own visible light spectrometer. A spectrometer identifies materials by measuring their unique color absorption but those on the commercial market cost thousands of dollars. Using cheap off-the-shelf parts such as a VHS-box and a USB webcam the Lab has reduced the cost to $35. In addition they developed open source software to analyze the spectral data.

Now they’ve started a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter to raise money to create a library to share the data online.

The goal is to develop a wiki-style website where people can upload their data and collaborate to interpret it. The growing database of unique datasets could then be used to develop an app to identify materials on the go. Or as the Lab-people put it on their Kickstarter page: ‘We imagine a kind of "SHAZAM for materials" which can help to investigate chemical spills, diagnose crop diseases, identify contaminants in household products, and even analyze olive oil, coffee, and homebrew beer.’

With still 23 days to go the project has already reached six times its $10,000 goal. But that is no reason not to pledge your contribution and reap your rewards. The Lab offers  different kinds of spectrometer kits. Like a fold-up spectrometer for a $10 pledge or a $65 3D-printed one you can clip on an Android phone.

Photo by: Jeffrey Warren
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