diy sensor lab

What is possible when there is time, minds are open, and good is good enough?


Sensors used to be made by researchers at universities, who needed them for institutional research. Nowadays, not many sensors are being developed by universities anymore. Instead, companies develop them, but only if it is economically viable. This requires a (existing or potential) market demand, and the methods and production process must be clear. This in turn means that there are no efforts to make sensors for, for instance, a market of one. Nor do they produce sensors that are accidentally discovered by people playing around out of curiosity. Last but nog least: they hardly ever produce sensors that are open hardware.
We think there is a lot of possiblilities there for amateur scientists to contribute to the field of sensor development. They usually have time to play around, are not stuck in the scientific habit of wanting to use only sensors of the highest quality, and beacuse they do not have much knowledge of the workings of existing sensors, they can think of other ways to measure the same.
These ways may (at first) not yield the most precise, efficient and reproducible sensors, but it will give the participants deep understanding of sensing, uncertainty, methodology and possibly mechanics or electronincs. It will also invite them to dive into statistics. In the best case it will give the world a new type of sensor that can slowly be improved by a communal effort, allowing everybody to contribute to the development. 
 Our interest in this is three fold:
  • It is a form of curiosity driven research that academic scientists feel less and less free to do. In this way, amateur scientists can work on it in their free time and academic scientists can join on the same terms if they want to;
  • It gives fundamental insights the participants into the workings and limitations of sensors that they use for their scientific projects;
  • Empowerment is about having the tools to interact with your environment. This comes in various degrees, from being able to observe to being able to influence. Being given sensors to measure your environment is very empowering, but being able to develop your own tools is taking empowerment to a next level. And like Rob Hopkins of Transition Towns once said: it is a completely different experience to be in a room with people who feel there is not much they can do than to be in a room with people who feel they could try anything.
Our aim is not in the first place to mass produce good, reliable and comparable sensors for the citizens market. This may be an outcome, but it also may not. The goals is the development itself.

Science and scientific relevance

The methods we propose leave ample room for the kind of seredipitous finds that propelled much of scientific advancement before WW-II. In the absence of contemporary market incentives a wider range of research paths can be explored.
Although the parttime nature of citizen research and the necessity to pick up certain theoretical and/or practical skills may slow down the process we also recognize that the scientific method as such is not a prohibitivly complicated set of guidelines for amateur scientists to pick up.
We believe that with an adherence to the scientific method but freedom from many of the constraints that institutional researchers or commercial engineers find themselves in a DIY approach to sensor development could actually be highly relevant to science.


A sensor is any object (machine, system, other) able to yield quantitative information about the environment. It may be as complex as a mass spectrometer, or as basic as a leaf of a potted plant. (…)
With scientists we mean anybody who wants to explore the subject with an open mind, using the scientific method. These can be amateurs or academic scientists working in their free time.
With developing sensors we do not mean buying sensors and soldering them, but really developing them ourselves, either from sratch, from unusual materials or from parts.


This open sensor lab is an attempt to actually develop new sensors. That can be done low tech or high tech, digital or analog, bio based or silicon based, but it should be within reach of as many people as possible.

Soon we will pick a date on which to come together and work together or side to side on new sensor projects.

Are you interested in participating or organising? send us an email on

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