What Super Mario Bros. Is Teaching MIT About Cities

9 Gangnam Many

With the “Luigi” robot these MIT researchers are getting into the sewers to study the human microbiome (poop, that means poop). Via Co.Design:

Mile after mile of sewer pipe exists beneath our cities. This infrastructural network provides critical waste management, and MIT thinks it can do even more: better educate us about public health–through poop.

Together, the MIT Senseable City Lab–an urban innovation research group– and ALM Lab–a team investigating the human microbiome–launched Gangnam Poop: Underworlds in Seoul, an experimental “smart sewage” platform that attempts to extract health information from human waste. Using a robot named Luigi–after the Super Mario Bros. character that ventured into underground tunnels to vanquish his enemies–MIT researchers collect sewage samples and then analyze their bacterial and chemical composition. The hope is the data will reveal insights about the health of whole communities, which public-health agencies can use to understand macro trends, like how epidemics spread. In a way, the Underworlds project is like its video game namesake–scientists travel into sewer pipes and combat society’s ills.

In the future every flush could help make our cities healthier and more transparent. Sewage epidemiology is a growing scientific field and some researchers believe that testing wastewater can give a more accurate and immediate look at the health of a population.

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