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Collective awareness platform for outdoor air pollution

Air pollution can present a significant risk to public health, the built environment and the natural environment. An EU-funded initiative has developed a platform for collecting information and raising public awareness to help address this threat.

Over the long-term, air pollution can lead to asthma and other respiratory diseases, heart disease and lung cancer, cause strokes, and even shorten life span. Particulate matter has been linked to significant health problems, with around 90 % of Europeans living in cities being exposed to levels of air pollution deemed damaging to human health.

The EU-funded hackAIR project is improving air quality data through participatory sensing technology and the engagement of citizens. “The initiative fills knowledge gaps in areas where the distance between official air monitoring stations may be significant, enables citizens to have access to data from different sources and provides up-to-date air quality information,” says project coordinator Panagiota Syropoulou.

Pictures reveal particulate levels

Project partners created an open technology platform based on citizen science. It allows members of the public to access, collect and improve air quality information across Europe. With the aid of hackAIR, they can measure and publish levels of outdoor pollution and leverage the power of online social networks, mobile and open hardware technologies and engagement strategies.

According to Syropoulou: “hackAIR integrates air quality data from official stations and DIY sensors and estimates from sky depicting photos to raise citizens awareness on the problem of air pollution and provide up-to-date air quality information.” In addition to the static version of the sensor that connects to citizen’s home Wi-Fi, hackAIR also developed a battery-driven version that connects via Bluetooth and for use on the road, and a low-tech measurement device for use in research and education settings.

“The project also prototyped an innovative approach for estimating particulate matter levels from mobile phone pictures of the sky and deployed it at scale by analysing large numbers of publicly available images from webcams and social media platforms like Flickr,” Syropoulou explains. A data fusion algorithm calculates estimates for air quality for those locations where no measurements are available, enabling hackAIR to provide a continuous map of air quality information.

Greater information on air pollution levels

Researchers conducted test pilots in Germany and Norway and conducted a series of workshops and citizen engagement activities to raise local awareness of air quality issues and mobilise health-conscious communities. “In less than a year, more than 13 000 people accessed the hackAIR platform to be informed about the quality of the air they breathe, around 800 citizens began measuring air pollution with their own DIY hackAIR sensors, while 1 400 citizens contributed to the hackAIR community by uploading photos of the sky,” reveals Syropoulou.

hackAIR enables EU citizens and organisations to generate and publish information more easily, thereby raising awareness of daily levels of human exposure to air pollution. It provides information about air pollution levels where they live and is particularly pertinent to those who enjoy exercising outside, look after children or the elderly, or suffer from respiratory problems. It has also stimulated conversations in local communities about possible improvements to air quality.

Reference source: Collective awareness platform for outdoor air pollution

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