Track Air Pollution on Your Cell Phone


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Image: Tiny air quality sensors from Seacoast Science.

Want to choose a route to school that doesn’t get your kid coughing and sneezing, or a jogging path that won’t aggravate your asthma? That’s the aim of Citisense, a futuristic new project by computer scientists at UC San Diego that just won a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Thousands of San Diego residents will carry tiny environmental sensors which will communicate over cell phone networks, giving the whole city access to real-time awareness of air quality on the scale of a single block. Some subjects will agree to carry pedometer and heart-rate monitors at the same time, to see how the pollution might be affecting their health.

The project has many challenges, from maintaining the quality of data from sensors that might be attached to a kid’s backpack or a car mirror, to coordinating the information, to privacy concerns. The payoff is much clearer insight into how environmental factors affect our daily lives–giving regulators the power to pinpoint offenders, and giving citizens motivation to push for change.