Public Lab, also known as the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, is all about creating affordable, DIY versions of expensive scientific equipment. In the past, we covered Public Lab’s work creating a balloon mapping toolkit that allowed anyone and everyone to take and add user-created weather balloon imagery to Google Earth’s repertoire.
For their most recent project, they’re bringing things a little closer to the ground. This time, the folks at Public Lab are photographing the secret internal life of plants using an extremely affordable near-infrared camera they’ve designed.
When plants are going through active photosynthesis, using carbon dioxide and light to produce sugars, they absorb red and blue light while reflecting infrared. Public Lab’s near-infrared camera, which they’re calling “Infragram,” takes both an infrared picture and a visible light picture, comparing the two and producing a composite that highlights plant growth.
Plants that are actively growing show up a bright pink because of the infrared they are reflecting:
The camera is able to do this by filtering out red light and replacing it with near-infrared using a special superblue filter. Each click of the shutter gives you two images, an infrared photo in the red channel, and a visible image in the blue. After that, you just upload those images to Public Lab’s web service and they combine them into the telltale Infragram version.
Public Lab wants to get this technology in as many “geek gardeners, farmers, and open source DIY scientists” hands as possible, and so they’ve taken to Kickstarter to fun the project. So far, things are looking pretty good: with 34 days to go, Infragram has already reached $39,000 — a full $9,000 over the project’s stated goal.
Kickstarter backers get to choose from three options: a DIY superblue filter, an Infragram webcam, or an Infragram point-and-shoot. The DIY filter will allow you to use your own camera and only runs you $10, the webcam is a ready-made cheap alternative at $35, and the point-and-shoot is a 2-megapixel Infragram camera that will run you $95.
To learn more about Infragram or pick up a plant peeking camera for yourself, head over to the project’s Kickstarter page.