VIDEO: Smartphone app helps scientists study air pollution

An air quality smartphone app has provided more than 28m readings from hundreds of volunteers has helped researchers across Europe study air pollution levels.

The AirProbe smartphone app, combined with a small sensor box, is allowing individuals to monitor air quality readings and monitor pollutants – such as ozone, NO2 and black carbon – and send the readings back to a central server.

The app is part of the EVERYAWARE project, which has also includes a similar noise pollution app, WideNoise. The first tests for Air Probe were carried out by more than 300 people in Antwerp, Kassel, Turin and London with €2m of EU funding invested in the project to organise the case studies.

“The EVERYAWARE project really aimed to empower people, to give them easy but accurate tools to measure air quality and noise. And then we analysed their use of the system as well as the data they had collected,” explains project coordinator Professor Vittorio Loreto, research leader at the ISI Foundation in Turin.

The app works in conjunction with a small battery-operated sensor which can be carried in a backpack or bicycle basket and connects to the phone via Bluetooth. The box sucks in air and reads pollution levels before sending out the information to help people avoid areas of peak pollution.

Citizen science

Project volunteers collected more than 28 million air quality points and gave feedback on the performance of the app and monitor box. The EVERYAWARE project was organised by researchers across Belgium, Germany, Italy and the UK including researchers from University College London.

By making the pollution information available for the public the researchers also hope to see how people will react to regularly updated information about air quality: “It is still too early to draw any conclusions, but it will be interesting to see how people change their behaviour as their awareness of the environment increases,” added Professor Loreto.

European Commission vice president for digital agenda Neelie Kroes said: “Thanks to new technologies we are now firmly in the era of citizen science where everyone can create, collect and share data for the common good.”

The UK’s air pollution level has been repeatedly criticised by the European Commission. It is estimated that air pollution levels in London, Birmingham and Leeds will exceed EU limits until at least 2030.

The EVERYAWARE AirProbe app in action

Matt Field

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