Crowd sourcing air quality data: Lunchtime Talk Write-Up
On 5th of October we were joined in the Studio by Damon Rand from Clean Energy Prospector to learn more about the amazing Air Quality Egg project. The Air Quality Egg is a low-cost environmental sensor capable of sensing NO2 and CO2 (and optionally O3, VOC and radiation). The data is realtime, open and published online for anyone to make use of it.
What is it?
The Air Quality Egg is a sensor system designed to allow anyone to collect very high resolution readings of NO2 and CO concentrations outside of their home. These two gases are the most indicative elements related to urban air pollution that are sense-able by inexpensive, DIY sensors.
Damon started the talk by showing a fifteen-minute video shot at a hackathon in London in February 2012. The video documents the first deployment and testing of AirQualityEgg sensing units and explores the motivations and methodologies of the community surrounding the project.
Watch the film here: http://vimeo.com/39775046
Damon then went on to explain about the community that created the Air Quality egg:
The Air Quality Egg is developed by a community effort, born out of groups from the Internet of Things Meetups in NYC and Amsterdam. The community is made up of designers, technologists, developers, architects, students, and artists. You can read more about the history of the development of this project here and here.
How it works
1) Outdoor sensors: A small electronic sensing system plugs into the wall and sits outside your home taking regular readings. It has an RF transmitter, which sends the data wirelessly to an Egg-shaped base station inside.
2) Egg base station: An Egg-shaped base station, which gives this project its name, receives the wirelessly transmitted data from the sensor box outside. It then relays that data to the Internet via a wired Ethernet connection. The Egg also acts as a User Interface, using an LED light and a button. These are configurable by applications which will be developed in the future by the community.
3) Data sent to Internet: The air quality data will be sent in real-time to Pachube, an open data service, which both stores and provides free access to the data. The service includes embeddable graphs and the ability to generate triggers for tweets and SMS alerts, as well as a robust API which allows for developers in the community to unlock the potential of this new dataset by building mashups, maps, and applications.
The project has been ‘crowd funded’ on Kickstarter by 926 backers. Damon explained that by crowd funding they were able to raise the necessary funds in advance to create and develop the egg. By having a variety of different options available for people they were able to maximise donations, and they reached their goal of $39,000 within just four days. They now have now raised an incredible $144,592 from a total of 927 backers. You can see the campaign here.
It is clear that at its low cost it cannot compete with much more expensive "institutional" air quality sensor networks on their own terms; instead it offers new collaborative means of monitoring air quality by a global community of air quality sensor enthusiasts.
The data quality offered by the Air Quality Egg sensor device will necessarily be a trade-off between a number of considerations, and it is important to understand the implications. One unique aspect of the Air Quality Egg is their ambition to try to avoid having to calibrate all sensors they ship since it would require substantial effort and access to expensive specialist equipment. Instead they will explore ways of making use of the potentially large network of sensors to compensate for large range of readings from individual sensors.
However the expense of performing simple sensor calibrations at the factory maybe the lowest cost place to calibrate and provide a reasonable credibility for the readings.
Determining the data quality is ongoing and part of the process if deciding: how good do the measurements need to be? What is the best way of getting there? You can read more about the quality of data on their site here.
Damon explained that he sees the project as a way to raise awareness of air quality and hopefully provide people with data that they can then use to prompt local councils to investigate further. Although calibrations may not be identical to "institutional" air quality sensors they will hopefully draw attention to potential problems within localised areas.
Bristol Air Quality
Damon then talked about Bristol’s own air quality, which received high praise from the European Commission, who reported;
‘Bristol’s policy on clean air and noise is commendable: the city has one of the most comprehensive air quality monitoring networks in the UK and has plans to manage transport to improve air quality and reduce noise.’ More information here.
However then Damon showed us a BBC article, which reports that data collected by Bristol City Council showed that some Bristol streets had nitrogen dioxide levels that were more than twice the EU limit. Read the full article here.
Installing air quality eggs in Bristol will give the community the opportunity to compare data from the eggs to reliable, approved government data, enabling them to make assessments of the quality and accuracy if the egg’s sensing capabilities.
How to get involved:
Damon’s Lunchtime Talk was the first in a series of events for Bristol about the Air Quality Egg, and later this month there are two events taking place that are a must for anyone interested in the project:
Day 1. Monday, October 22. The founders of the global Air Quality Egg project are coming to Bristol to run a workshop where you will learn about, build and install your own air quality egg. You can buy a ticket for this workshop which will be hosted at the CREATE centre.
Day 2. Tuesday, October 23. The Pervasive Media Studio is hosting a free roundtable discussion to review data arriving from the Air Quality Egg's that we built and installed on the first day. This is session is free and open to anyone interesting in knowing more about air quality. Book your place here.
To find out more about the project you can visit their wiki site here: http://airqualityegg.wikispaces.com/AirQualityEgg