Monitoring Pollution With Your Smart Phone
December 19, 2012

Understanding Air Pollution On Smart Phones With CitiSense

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Scientists from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) recently revealed that they were able to develop a group of small, portable sensors that would give users the ability to monitor air pollution and air quality in real time on their smart phone. With these findings, the researchers state that the sensors could help people who have chronic conditions affected by exposure to pollutants.

To begin, the sensors, known as CitiSense, are part of a system that delivers real-time data on air quality to individuals´ cell phones and home computers. As well, the system is considered the first of its kind. A few of the factors detected by CitiSense sensors included carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone. With this data collected, the interface provides color-coded readings on the smart phone; these codes are based off of the Environmental Protection Agency´s (EPA) quality ratings, with green as good and purple as hazardous.

“We want to get more data and better data, which we can provide to the public,” remarked the study´s lead investigator William Griswold, a professor of computer science at UCSD´s Jacobs School of Engineering, in a prepared statement. “We are making the invisible visible.”

A total of 30 users participated in the study on CitiSense during a four-week period. Many of the users commented that the tool was an informative learning device that helped them better understand the different things that affect air pollution. Commuters also had the opportunity see how pollution can differ based on the route one takes.

“The people who are doing the most to reduce emissions, by biking or taking the bus, were the people who experienced the highest levels of exposure to pollutants,” noted Griswold in the statement.

Furthermore, the researchers believed that it´s possible that the sensors could be built into the smart phones in the future, allowing everyone to be updated on the levels of pollution. They saw that the sensors impacted the users´ knowledge on pollution. As a result of the study, some users changed their habits and shared the information they had learned with family, friends, and even strangers.

“It´s a valuable study,” explained Charles Elkan, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD. “I think it´s going to have a big impact in the future.”

Moving forward, the team of investigators believe that the aim of CitiSense should be to create and implement a wireless network that includes hundreds of miniscule environmental sensors on cell phones. Data will then be passed onto central computers where it can be analyzed and given to users, health agencies, and others. The researchers have also developed and used approximately 20 of these sensors in the field. However, a few technical issues remain such as the long-lasting batteries needed for the phones and sensors. Researchers are currently investigating how to extend the battery life and also how to turn off the phone´s GPS when the device is not being used.

“Sensors will differ. Sensors will fail,” concluded Griswold in the statement. “People will breathe on them. We wanted to make sure we got good data in these conditions.”