Lapka’s tagline may be the “Personal Environment Monitor,” but its name is rooted in the Russian word for paw. “We want to be the rabbit’s foot that you bring with you all day to make sure everything will be fine,” Creative Director and co-founder Vadik Marmeladov says. “It’s like a talisman, which you hold to be safe.” Lapka goes on sale today, a $220 set of sensors for detecting radiation, electromagnetic fields, humidity / temperature, and perhaps most interestingly, a sensor for measuring how organic your food is. But are we really in danger of radiation poisoning or overexposure to electromagnetic waves on the streets of our neighborhood?
“It’s hard to find someone who’d say ‘I’d love to measure radiation’ on a day-to-day basis,” says Marmeladov, but that’s exactly what he intends to convince you of. Each sensor is molded from wood and injection-molded plastic, and looks like it would fit better on the shelf of an Apple Store than in your high school’s science lab. In fact, each sensor plugs into your iPhone’s headphone jack as if it were a Square card reader.
Like Verge editor Ben Popper, Marmeladov discovered that feeling and measuring the invisible things around you can be strange and enlightening. The pack of sensors is about environmental life-logging and keeping a journal of the invisible fields you inhabit every day. Lapka is also about finding the joy in building something cool nobody has tried before. Marmeladov, dressed from head to toe in black and donning a modern mohawk, states proudly: “Our goal is to mix Yves Saint Laurent and NASA together.
"ALL OF THESE THINGS EXIST IN YOUR LIFE, BUT THEY'RE ALL UGLY."
Geiger counters haven’t exactly experienced a "consumer revolution," still spitting out simple numbers on tiny pixelated screens or analog line gauges. There just aren’t many startups democratizing sensors outside the now standard mix of GPS units and accelerometers inside cell phones. But if Kickstarter success Twine is any indication, having amassed $556,000 in backing on a $35,000 goal, there is indeed a market for such things. But whereas Twine is a hackable blue box meant to make your home and surroundings "smarter," Lapka aims to simply make the sensors we already have, like Geiger counters and EMF detectors look and feel a whole lot nicer. "All of these things exist in your life, but they’re all ugly and they’re $300 each," Marmeladov says. Since Lapka uses the iPhone as its brains and power source, its creators were able to drastically shrink down the sizes of its sensors. "You don’t need to put brains and screens inside each sensor," lead engineer Sergey Philippov says. "There are no power supplies, processors, screens, or batteries in Lapka, because we already have those things on an iPhone."
Philippov was left with the challenge of what to display onscreen, and how to take advantage of the iPhone’s powerful processor; they had to think up a completely new and accessible way to visualize numerical scientific readings, Marmeladov says. The app turns out to be an exercise in simplifying numbers incomprehensible to the untrained eye. A combination of letters and abstract particles in motion represent the healthiness (slow-moving particles) or sickliness (fast-moving particles) of your test subject. You might not understand the units that show up (Lapka does show numerical units), but you’re sure to understand that the color red alongside frantic little dots and blobs is bad news.
Each successive measurement you take turns into a block on the Lapka app’s home screen. Each block is imprinted with the symbol of the sensor used to acquire each reading, and will topple over and tumble around as you tilt your iPhone. As each day passes you acquire one more home screen inside the Lapka app, which makes flipping through your readings intuitive. There’s also a list view for browsing readings en masse — a quick way to turn days of readings into a calendar of journal entries. "We wanted to build a story of a thing you use daily," Marmeladov says. "It’s where this design thing comes to life." Each entry is uploaded to the cloud, and shareable via Facebook, Twitter, email, and SMS. No matter where you open a Lapka URL, the results (and accompanying animation of particles) shows up and animate just like on the iPhone.
MORE photos and details on the sensors:
I'd sure like to be able to purchase a weather station (humidity, temp, dew point, precipitation, evaporation, wind speed and direction) that plugs into my iPod, or computer for less than ~$50.