The Internet of Clean Air

Published by Telefónica IoT Team IoT General, Industry, Smart Cities

The problem of polluted air is becoming a key concern as big cities have serious problems controlling their emissions and thus jeopardize the health of millions of citizens at a time. The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 8.2 million people die every year due to air pollution – two thirds of the total deaths caused by unhealthy environments. “A healthy environment underpins a healthy population,” summarizes Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.

As usual, technology is recruited as a means to solve – or at least improve – the problem. The IoT in general is a facilitator when complex solutions and task automation is required. In many occasions, the purpose of the IoT is not only to improve existing solutions, but sometimes designing systems to collect data and extract insight from scratch.

People take action through crowdsourcing

A couple of years ago we mentioned Clarity as an interesting approach to air quality control. The air sensor – jointly developed by engineers from Harvard and Berkeley universities – is a nice compact keychain style device to wear around and inform through your mobile phone – in an aggregated and anonymous manner – about the air quality in your area, creating real time air quality maps. It was designed to be tested in extremely polluted areas of China, Mexico or India where certain episodes of pollution have been compared by WHO experts to “a nuclear winter”.

Another initiative, the Air Quality Egg, started as a Kickstarter initiative, and has turned into a commercial product with an open source community feeling to it. Collected data (carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide readings transmitted wireless via WiFi) is openly shared allowing users to poll about the air quality in any part of the world where ‘eggs’ are deployed.

Plume Labs, creators of a forecasting app to help users avoid air pollution – through their Plume Air Report – have experimented using a flock of IoT equipped pigeons (most obviously called the Pigeon Air Patrol) to fly over the London area recording ozone, volatile compounds and nitrogen dioxide. The experience was used to raise awareness among citizens of London about the invisible danger that air pollution is.

Also in London, the BuggyAir project is looking towards mothers and their children for help. Infant buggies, pushchairs and strollers are being equipped with IoT devices to measure air quality. GPS and accelerometers determine precise location and whether the pushchair is being walked around or aboard a vehicle. Scheduled uploaded data creates dynamic air quality maps helping researchers study pollution patterns and providing parents with relevant data about polluted hotspots to avoid with their children. Other wearable initiatives – like startup Tzoa – extend air quality to offer more data like UV exposure.

Air Quality, a challenge for Smart Cities

Smart Cities can also lead clean air initiatives. Israeli company Breezometer offers Smart Cities a Big Data powered platform based on advanced algorithms that combines satellite, weather, traffic, monitoring stations and GIS map data to offer a combined and cohesive solution. By collecting data, comparing it to its dispersion algorithms updated on an hourly basis, the Breezometer platform provides users actionable, real-time, and highly accurate information regarding air quality.


Telefónica IoT Team