Measuring Urban Pollution With Your Phone

We live in a city, and a big one. The footsteps of thousands of people thrum the pavement every day, competing with coughing cars and trembling trams in what can sound like a cacophony contest. Stand for a while on Plac Inwalidów or Rondo Mogilskie, let the racket soak in and notice how hard it is to think.

We aren’t the only people with this problem – New Yorkers also complain about the harmful clamour. The folks from the HabitatMap team heard those voices and asked Lunar Logic to craft AirCasting: an environmental mapping platform that serves as a noise and air pollution monitor. New Yorkers got the tool they needed to back up their personal feelings with hard data.

AirCasting started as a mobile and web app kit for measuring and uploading urban noise levels. You just turned on your AC mobile app, took a walk and then uploaded the recorded session to the web server where CrowdMaps of noise pollution were compiled. Multiple data sets from the same area were combined into average decibel contamination levels.

Since then, the AirCasting sound measurement app has been tweaked and improved until it can pick up the smallest changes in noise levels. The endeavour has matured and expanded too – the team has developed and prototyped a range of DIY sensors for measuring gas (CO, NO2) and particulate levels, as well as humidity and temperature.

The AirCasting sensor pod and app

Getting Local

At this point, you might be thinking: “Well, that’s fine for New Yorkers. They live in a vast city and probably have to search for their fresh air. But us Cracovians…?”

Perhaps it’s news to you, but Krakow has a more than serious problem with all kinds of air pollution. The Małopolska air monitoring network measures nine different atmospheric contaminants, from SO2 to PM10s to volatile organics, and the numbers are not good.

There are 11 monitoring stations in the region, including three in Krakow. But how accurate is the data? What if you don’t live near one of the three monitoring stations? More and more Cracovians are becoming aware of air and noise pollution in their neighbourhoods. Shouldn’t they too have the tools to prove their claims?

Getting Involved

If you want to use AirCasting for urban noise measurement, simply download the free app to your smartphone from Google Play, check your GPS connection and start recording a session. You can synchronise it later and see your efforts uploaded to the global CrowdMap.

You could use AirCasting to check your favourite walks, the area around your children’s school, or a neighbourhood you are thinking of relocating to. CrowdMaps already made by other AirCasters can be a valuable source of information if you are looking for quiet spots in the city.

If you’re a moderately talented tinkerer with an aptitude for electronics, you can download the plans and build your own air quality sensors. Plug these in to the AirCasting app, and set yourself up as a mobile pollution monitoring platform.

You can even add a heart-rate sensor to measure the impact of noise and contaminants on your body, and an illuminated jacket that reacts to the measurements… but that’s another story.





Mirek Woźniak works at Lunar Logic, a ruby-coloured web app shop in Krakow

One thought on “Measuring Urban Pollution With Your Phone

  • February 21, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    21st century environmental involvement with your own tools/toys! Wowza and get going, get involved, make a positive difference. Great article for serious empowerment. SueCitySue


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