The BMW Guggenheim Lab is a mobile laboratory traveling to nine major cities worldwide over six years. Led by international, interdisciplinary teams of emerging talents in the areas of urbanism, architecture, art, design, science, technology, education, and sustainability, the Lab addresses issues of contemporary urban life through programs and public discourse. Its goal is the exploration of new ideas, experimentation, and ultimately the creation of forward-thinking solutions for city life.

Their blog recently discussed the “Kleiner Wassersensor” project, brainchild of José Gómez-Márquez which includes simple chemo-reactive tests as part of a “testing card” (see the pictures in their blog post)  – nothing special…what is actually special and quite clever is the QR code printed on each card so that the person testing their water can snap a picture with their smartphone to upload the data. While uploading the image, their smartphone also uploads a (user authorized)  GPS location packet (or the user is able to drag an icon on the map) to  indicate their location.

Uploaded data is shared on an interactive map.

The program  launched in Berlin and has good potential to help people understand the difference between water quality at the municipal treatment plant and how it ends up downstream at point of use.

This kind of “real-time” testing data can also be helpful in identifying seasonal fluctuations in water hardness as well as other fluctuations that can indicate potential future issues.

Their kit  currently tests for:

  • NO3 – Nitrate
  • pH – Acid/Alkaline Balance
  • GH – General Hardness
  • NO2 -Nitrite
  • KH -Carbonate Hardness

While the blog post talks about bacteria, there is really nothing there to quantitatively or qualitatively test for bacterial contamination that I could see.

5 in 1 Water Quality Test Strips

It’s encouraging to see more people catching the vision of a GIS database of water quality information.

The Google map database that our group operates serves the same purpose (continental USA only) and with the 9100TSi Ethernet enabled controller uploading data every night we will have incredibly accurate data-points from installed equipment – BUT, Márquez’s project opens up almost an entire population (anyone who has running water and can read/follow instructions) to participate in the collection of valuable water quality data.

It would be much better to test for the following instead of their current panel:

  • Chlorine
  • Alkalinity
  • Hardness
  • Total Alkalinity
  • pH

This could be easily and cost-effectively executed with off the shelf  Hach 5-in-1 test strips. The person performing the test could take a picture of the strip against a printed color-calibrated background instead of playing around with the little pieces as currently envisioned in BMW’s concept.

It would be great to also get more data like:

  • Iron
  • Lead
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Fluoride
  • Sulfate
  • Conductivity
  • Etc…

Unfortunately, the limitations of current testing methods would make that far more complex and expensive for the end user than the original design intent.

I’m looking forward to when nano-tech allows a “probe-type” sensor that performs all the tests we currently have to perform colorimetrically.

This would be a great project for Hach and the WQA to participate on together in the United States. Even water quality improvement industry leaders like Pentair could benefit from participating in a project like this.

Consumer awareness of water quality issues would increase, water quality improvement experts would have access to a relatively reliable baseline database of important raw water information and regulators/legislators would have much broader data sets to work with in making projections relating to water quality and environmental legislation.

Navigate over to to participate in the BMW Guggenheim project.


Here is their blog post:


Kleiner Wassersensor: The Little DIY Water Tester That Could Change the World

Posted to General on July 26th, 2012 by Christine McLaren

If we can have real-time diagnostics of the weather and the stock market, why can’t we have them for, say, the environment, or public health?

If Lab Team member José Gómez-Márquez has his way, soon we will be able to do exactly that through crowdsourcing. But first he must experiment with a prototype: meet the Kleiner Wassersensor (the Little Water Sensor), a DIY water testing kit José developed as one of his Lab City Projects with his entourage of colleagues and students.* This kit is currently being distributed to people all over Berlin.


The Kleiner Wassersensor (Little Water Sensor) could help democratize data collection.

The test is incredibly simple: the user is provided with five pieces of litmus-like paper which measure various aspects of water. He or she attaches those to a strip of double-sided tape on the Kleiner Wassersensor card in the order specified in the directions. The user then submerges the card in some sort of water. For the first trial, this time around, “water” can mean anything—from a natural body of water in the city like the Spree or Müggelsee to the water coming out of a shower head.



The user waits a minute to let the magic paper do its color-changing thing, and then snaps a photo of the card on a smartphone. Et voilà—with a little help from the user, the information is analyzed on the spot and mapped.

According to José, this is the first time he and his lab at MIT are aware of that a diagnostic has been combined with a mobile phone app to provide real-time data collection. Why does this matter? Well, two reasons: first, like any type of crowdsourcing, it puts the power of data collection in the hands of everyday people. “Our hope is that, with the Kleiner Wassersensor we can make sure that the crowdsourced, DIY versions of those diagnostics are much more democratized than the $5000 one sitting in a box in the city water office,” he says.

This is not just about water, either. Ultimately the idea is that the same technique could be used to test for all sorts of things, from environmental pollutants to highly infectious diseases. It would enable people to collect the kind of data they want and need, not just that which the government or research “experts” collect, if and when they decide to collect it.

But that democratization also massively speeds up the process of that data collection. By way of example, José points to the cholera epidemic that killed thousands in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. If the people themselves had been doing tests on the ground that allowed for instant analysis—real time epidemiology, José calls it—the epidemic could likely have been identified far before it reached a crisis point.

This, of course, is many steps beyond where the “soft stroked” prototype, as Jose calls it, currently is. The “model one” Kleiner Wassersensor tests for more Berlin-relevant qualities like acidity, water hardness, and bacterial presence—all things that José says, in the relevant perspective, should not be discounted.

“‘Serious’ scientists don’t think these are interesting questions. But from a participatory-science point of view, and an everyday-living point of few, frankly it does matter what kind of water you have to put in your espresso maker so that it doesn’t ruin it, or why your shampoo doesn’t lather properly in your shower,” he says. “We’re here to make interesting questions out of what everyday people find [to be] interesting questions.”

*Aydin Arpa, Lee Gehrke, Irene Bosch, Ben Eck, Madeline Hickman, Steph Cooke, and Emilee Johnson all participated in this project.

. . .

Photos: by Christine McLaren