Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Real Time Pollution Mapping Using Wearable Instruments

Earlier this year, Beijing’s concentration of PM 2.5 particles—those fine enough to penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream—reached 505 micrograms per cubic meter, and the World Health Organization recommends a safe level of 25. Forty percent of global air pollution-related deaths—1.2 million in total—have been linked to PM-2.5 pollution in China, according a 2013 WHO report.

This means it’s vitally important that the Chinese keep a close eye on the quality of the air around them. But reliable data can be difficult to come by. Just last week, when several major heads of state met for an important regional summit in Beijing, the government reportedly blocked air pollution data provided by the U.S. Embassy from being displayed on local smartphone apps and websites.

It’s no small problem, and David Lu aims to solve it. Together with seven other students at the University of California, Berkeley, Lu recently created a new kind of air pollution sensor dubbed Clarity. This keychain-sized gadget lets you constantly track your personal exposure to air pollution via a smartphone app. But it’s also a way of crowdsourcing much broader studies on air quality—not only across China but throughout other parts of the world as well.

Basically, Lu and company will pool data from everyone wearing the device, and when enough of these gadgets are deployed, Lu says, they can feed pollution maps of any city. “Our mission,” Lu says, “is to empower people to collect information about their environment and take care of their environment.”

The effort is part of a larger movement to address environmental problems using the power and flexibility of internet-connected sensing devices. In the past, this included such gadgets as WNYC’s cicada tracker and Air Quality Egg. But the advent of the smartphone—and the new breed of wearable technology that connects to these phones—has unchained these types of sensors. As Lu strives to monitor air pollution in other parts of the globe, a new wearable called AirBeam aims to do much the same thing here in the U.S.

Read more @ the Wired 

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