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Checking air pollution with a smartphone

Over the last decade there have been growing concerns on the quality of the air we breath and several pollution detectors have been deployed. The problem is that these are few and cover only a limited zone. 
What has been noticed is that air quality can change in a very short time, as result of a traffic jam, as an example.
This is what has prompted researchers in Spain, the Netherlands and US to try a different approach: use sensors connected to cell phones to detect pollution levels.
The first experiment was run in Barcelona, Spain, giving to some 50 schoolchildren a smartphone with a connected air sensor. The experiment has shown that although these children spent only 4% of their time traveling to and from school they actually got exposed to air pollution contributing for 13% to the total carbon exposure. This showed that the concentration of pollution in their way to and from school was to such a level that actually had a stronger impact on them.
The experimentation, project BREATHE, was aimed at studying the impact that air pollution can have on brain development (hence the need to involve children in the study). The first step, of course, was to measure the level of black carbon inhaled, as a marker of air pollution. The problem, of course, is in the detection of pollutant using a portable sensor. Trying to detect a broader set of pollutants would have called for more complex sensing devices which would not have fit well with portability. Black carbon, based on studies, was considered as a good indicator of a broader class of pollutants.
The smart phones provided both the connectivity to send the data from the sensor to the data collection center and the exact location the data were referring to using the embedded GPS.
The dynamic and spreading of the data collection provided for a good statistical analyses that complements the information provided by fixed air quality detection systems.
Another interesting example of crowdsourcing.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.