18.11.2014

Big Data and apps to ensure the quality of the air we breathe

Big Data and apps to ensure the quality of the air we breathe

Image | Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy

Not long ago, if you wanted to know the air pollution level in a city, you had to wait to see the official numbers on the radio or TV. The reporting processes has changed recently, mainly from existing apps, who have made it much easier to find out any type of information, such as the air quality.

There is the technology that we use to determine air quality, while on the other side there is our own health or social awareness. No need to live in Beijing or in Accra, Ghana, (the city with the most polluted air in the world) for this matter to be transformed into a daily concern. The last thing you want is to part of the death or illness statistics from air pollution.

Some apps on air quality

Some very useful and simple tools to help you to avoid being part of these sad statistics are apps. A good example is Breezometer, which measures the air pollution levels in real time of the geographical environment of the person using it. In addition to this measurement, it also makes recommendations about what you should do to avoid said pollution, identify parks with better air quality and, if you go running or ride a bike in the city, it helps you to identify routes with lower pollution levels.

Big Data and apps to ensure the quality of the air we breathe

Breezometer

Image | Breezometer

To achieve its objective, the app analyzes large quantities of environmental data from a variety of sources with a special algorithm. And while Breezometer received good reviews, the disadvantage is that for the moment it only operates in Israel, although they have begun work to expand to the United States.

Other similar apps developed by private or educational institutions with the same purpose and with a defined geographical coverage are CALIOPE for Barcelona, the app China Air Quality Index which is almost mandatory for those living in Chinese cities with high pollution levels. The London Air app is an option for Londoners like Air Quality in Europe, an app for all Europeans in general .

Big Data and apps to ensure the quality of the air we breathe

Image | FreshIdeas Studio

Some governments (local or national) have also developed apps with similar aims as Breezometer, although maybe not to the same level of sophistication. One example is the app from the US Environmental Protection Agency, called AIRNow. Another example is Aire,from the Government of Mexico City, which I personally use daily and also monitors the levels of solar radiation. In the app stores, those with smartphones can find numerous apps similar to these. It will be the users who decide which is their favorite one.

These apps have not only been developed by citizens, but governments have also developed very illustrative web pages with all types of information that, moreover, are mobile friendly. A good example of one is the tool from the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources from the Singapore government.

Not all are apps

Mobile applications have limited functionalities in the environment because, for now, they are just processing and transmitting information generated by other devices. That is, by themselves they do not measure, for example, the pollution level in the air through a smartphone, although one day they may be able to. Hence, today they are developing special devices to perform individual measures of environment related issues. There are three interesting cases: AirBeam, NODE CO2 Sensor and Smart Citizen Kit, which by the waywas developed in Barcelona.

These three initiatives have a similar approach for two reasons; an external device to the smartphone that captures environmental data and transforms it into friendly information for the common citizen and secondly, that citizen measures their physical environment and contributes and participates in the generation of a better map of the world´s environmental situation. All of this has enormous multidisciplinary implications; from the generation of public environmental policies to health, to taking personal decisions, such as buying a house that is located in the most “green” area possible.

Health, environment and technology. A trio that becomes more relevant every day. Three relevant examples are the new Health apps from Apple, SHealth from Samsung and Fit from Google.