Dirty air is associated with all sorts of disease, from asthma to lung cancer. And the thing is, it’s hard to know if your neighborhood is a hotspot. While the Environmental Protection Agency and individual cities do monitor the air, their work is normally done broadly. They’re unlikely to give you a reading for your block or street.
Hence the need for something like the AirBeam, a palm-sized device now on Kickstarter. A sensor for particles of less than 2.5 microns (PM 2.5), the device links to a smartphone app and gives you an immediate rundown on dirty air in any location.
“Because government-run air-quality monitoring networks are sparse and pollutant concentrations are highly variable over time and space, publicly available air quality measurements don’t translate into an accurate assessment of personal exposure,” says Michael Heimbinder, lead developer of the device. “AirBeam users have been surprised at the volumes of dirty air they’re inhaling doing ordinary things like cooking, vacuuming, commuting in traffic, or walking over a sidewalk subway grate.”
When you take a reading with the AirBeam, it links via Bluetooth to the Aircasting app, which in turn aggregates the information to a publicly available map. The larger goal is to create a record of pollution and spur advocacy and debate.
“It’s about communities overburdened with pollution working together to crowdsource air quality data and leverage that information to enact policy changes that improve air quality where they live, work, and play,” Heimbinder says.
In addition to the sensor, Heimbinder’s group, HabitatMap, is also launching an accessory called the LiteBeam, which publicly displays app data using a red, yellow and green LED system. Heimbinder sees it as something to glance at when you don’t have time to open up your phone.
AirCasting isn’t the only the air quality mapping project out there. Smart Citizen, based in Europe, is doing something similar, as is Air Quality Egg. Nor is the AirBeam the only monitoring device that interacts with the AirCasting app and map. Others are under development by various groups, including this one and this one.
But it looks like the AirBeam, which costs $199, could be the most advanced and consumer-friendly to date. “There aren’t any comparable products on the market. The ones that come closest are either wildly inaccurate or extremely expensive,” Heimbinder says. “Our tests indicate that the AirBeam performs nearly as well as air-quality instruments that cost 30 times more, weigh five times as much, and have outdated software that makes acquiring and sharing data a pain.”