Preserving the Environment

How Can You Use Your Smartphone to Measure Air Pollution?

November 14, 2014
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How Can You Use Your Smartphone to Measure Air Pollution?
Government-run air quality monitoring networks don’t translate into an accurate assessment of personal exposure. David McNew/Getty Images
A Brooklyn nonprofit aims to revolutionize the way we think about the air we breathe.

Your smart phone is about to get a little smarter.

If this Kickstarter campaign is successful, a small, wearable product called the AirBeam, from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based HabitatMaps, will enable your phone to measure fine particulate levels, also known as PM2.5 (a dangerous, microscopic particle that can cause short term respiratory ailments like asthma, and cancer in the long-term).

Using your phone’s Bluetooth and GPS, the AirBeam can measure the levels of this pollutant along, say, your everyday commuting route and report the findings through an app.

Founder and sole full-time employee, Michael Heimbinder, hopes his new product will spread awareness to the public and facilitate a change in the way individuals approach their own environmental footprint, health and involvement in the modification of environmental policies.

In an interview with Technically Brooklyn, Heimbinder says that he focuses on these sensors because “portable versions of other air quality measurement tools were not reliable over time.” For instance, New York City already has numerous sensors mounted, but the bulk of them are to be found significantly high-up from the ground, where the air is cleaner and the pollutants expelled from intensive, rush-hour traffic aren’t as thick.

The Airbeam “is a perfect example of using sensors to get a large volume of cheap data,” says Heimbinder to Gigaom. The big question is whether or not the Kickstarter campaign (which needs $50,000 pledges by Nov. 19) can get enough of these sensors onto the street to collect relevant data.

Paste Magazine states in an article about AirBeam, “Knowledge is power, and the more we know about it, the more we can potentially improve such a vital part of our lives.”

That statement doesn’t seem far off. HabitatMaps (a non-profit founded in 2006 to create interactive maps for resident information and for places filled with historical facts) is making a significant step towards larger-scale change by affecting the perception and awareness of the individual.

Gigaom calls this, “a testament to the promise of the internet of things.”

In 2011, HabitatMaps released a similar device called the AirCaster that utilized a smartphone’s microphone to measure noise pollution. “AirCasting platform empowers citizen scientists and change makers like you and me to take matters into our own hands,” says Heimbinder in an interview with Kickstarter.

With AirBeam, that seems more applicable now than ever.

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