For city dwellers, avoiding the worst areas of air pollution has always been a guessing game. Now the French company Sensaris hopes to bring some precision to the exercise with an army of portable sensors. Its Senspods attach to bags, belts, or wrist straps, and upload data via mobile phone and Bluetooth to a central server. (The shell is currently undergoing a redesign to give the unit a more alluring shape.) When deployed in large numbers, the GPS-enabled devices build real-time pollution maps that pinpoint areas of airborne filth. The first Senspod trial began in May in Paris, where the devices are now measuring ozone and noise levels.
In the future, Sensaris plans to measure other indicators, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxide. Thanks to that critical mass of data, company founder Michael Setton expects the units will be useful to anyone interested in urban environmental policy. "It could be used by cities, neighborhoods, researchers, and NGOs," says Setton. Since launching the pilot in Paris, he says, "we've already had requests from Berlin, Hamburg, San Francisco, and Japan."
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A version of this article appeared in the September 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.