Providing timely and valid air quality information via human-centered electronic services: the APNEE-TU project
Dr Kostas Karatzas and Nicolas Moussiopoulos from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, report on a new method of providing timely and valid air quality information to citizens.Environmental information has always been at the top of the priority list for societies and individuals – it is considered crucial for survival and a prerequisite to prosperity. “Improved access to environmental information is a pre-condition for a higher degree of involvement of citizens and stakeholders in environmental decision-making,” said EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. However, citizens today still miss access to environmental information in their every day life – immediate, easy to understand information of present or future conditions should and could soon be available – from your mobile phone.
The APNEE-TU project has designed information services that draw upon various communication channels and promotes user-friendly information management and dissemination, applicable in multiple environmental information domains. For this reason, APNEE-TU establishes a uniform and transposable portal for environmental information, using air quality as the application domain, which may serve citizens as well as professionals and authorities. This portal provides real-time or forecasted air pollution information via a user friendly, schematic visualisation, accompanied by a variety of services including an online newsletter, early warning, personalised notification, geo-localisation etc.
Dissemination of information is based on high sophisticated communication channels including mobile telephone functionality (SMS, WAP, GPRS, J2ME), multimedia, electronic panels, voice servers and the Internet. Via the services provided, APNEE-TU aims at increasing the awareness of citizens concerning urban environmental pressures, using air quality as the application example. APNEE-TU integrates software components either as additional modules in existing Air Quality Management Systems or as stand-alone applications, based on new information technology, and also serves as a reference for providing access to environmental information throughout urban agglomerations.
Urban Environment Information Systems and APNEE-TU
In the case of Urban Environment Information Systems, one often has to resolve problems related to the collection of data in a central server from remote monitoring stations and “translate” them into appropriate, scientifically sound, easily understandable (from the citizen’s point of view), brief, precise, personalised messages, that directly link environmental conditions and pressures with personal well being and quality of life aspects.
Optimally, this information should be disseminated over the web, applying user-friendly presentation techniques. Moving one step further, an information portal may be envisaged, that allows for electronic, personalised, environmental information dissemination (both on-line and early warnings), via multiple information channels. This was the main aim of the APNEE project and its follow-up APNEE-TU, resulting in the creation of an information portal (the APNEE Regional Server - ARS).
The ARS was implemented in various application sites across Europe, based on Open Source technologies, that supports a multi-channel bouquet of pull and push environmental information services.
In the rest of this article, some examples are presented concerning environmental information services developed and implemented in the frame of APNEE-TU for the city of Thessaloniki , Greece. These electronic environmental information services were developed capitalising on the spread of mobile devices and making use of available technologies and the internet infrastructure, to provide continuous and affordable personalised information to citizens on the quality of the atmospheric environment.
One such service is the APNEE-TU version for web-enabled PDAs and handhelds, that provides access to the same content and bundle of information services, as one may visit via her/his PC, browsing through the Thessaloniki regional server. Some snapshots of this service are presented in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Snapshots of the APNEE-TU application for PDA, as available for Thessaloniki
Another such service makes use of a Java 2 Mobile Edition application for mobile devices. The application enables the mobile device to periodically connect to the ARS, access dynamic environmental information and display the corresponding image and information to the screen of the mobile device. For this purpose, concentration levels for PM10 and the Discomfort Index were selected as examples of atmospheric parameters of high interest for the citizens of Thessaloniki. For each one of these parameters, an associated image was presented, according to the actual value of the parameter, accompanied by a verbal characterisation, as presented in Figure 2 for the Discomfort Index (the image used for PM10 was a cloud instead of sun).
Figure 2. The images and verbal characterizations used for the 5 levels of Discomfort index communicated to mobile device users that made use of the APNEE-TU services in Thessaloniki
Thus, the user may obtain, instead of a static screen saver image, a dynamic image that represents the current, real time environmental information, updated regularly.
The first results of the APNEE-TU field trials run in Thessaloniki, have shown that citizens are open to new types of personalised electronic information services concerning the environment. These services are of special interest if they address quality of life aspects and are directly linked to recognisable, everyday, urban environment related problems. Overall, APNEE-TU services were positively accepted, were considered useful from the citizens of Thessaloniki, and a very good candidate for commercial, personalised, electronic information services, especially for the mobile phone industry.
The authors acknowledge the APNEE project (EC Information Society Technologies, IST-1999-11517) and the APNEE-TU project (EC Information Society technologies, IST- 2001-34154), and their partners herein. SIEMENS Hellas is specially acknowledged for developing the J2ME applications used in the 2nd Thessaloniki APNEE-TU field trials, while the Organisation for the Master Plan and Environmental Protection of Thessaloniki is acknowledged for its valuable support in the Thessaloniki APNEE-TU field trials.
1.The city of Thessaloniki (region of Central Macedonia
in Northern Greece) has about 1.000.000 inhabitants, an important industrial
region and a rapidly increasing vehicle fleet .