While we all enjoy the smartphones and tablets manufactured in China, nothing has put the world on notice regarding air quality more than the horrendous pollution that plagues that country's major cities. As the U.S. comes to grips with its own pollution, a local research group has created a smartphone sensor system designed to make monitoring our air quality a little more convenient.
CitiSense is an air quality detection system that was developed by researchers at the University of California San Diego. The system consists of a group of people equipped with small boxes, each of which contains a suite of sensors that detect ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature. Using Bluetooth, the box connects to the person's smartphone and tracks its location as its user moves around over the course of their day, essentially making that person an anonymous, roving air sensor.
Aggregated data from all of the sensors creates a kind of "citizen infrastructure" that delivers a detailed look at a particular community's air quality. One depressing thing that CitiSense has already discovered: the people who are doing the most to reduce emissions (by biking or taking the bus) are the people who experienced the highest levels of exposure to pollutants, since they spend more time outside and less time in their cars.
This latest environmental crowd-sourced project is reminiscent of another project launched last year designed to provide better radiation information for parts of Japan affected by the Fukushima disaster. At present, each sensor box costs about $1,000 to construct, but the developers hope bring that cost down significantly. You can learn more about the CitiSense system via this hour-long video lecture by Bill Griswold, a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at UC San Diego, and check out the system's components in the gallery below.