Zurich Buses Outfitted with Air Quality Sensors for Mobile Monitoring

zurich bus photo

Photo by EURIST e.V. via Flickr CC

Laboratories at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL) in Switzerland and one at ETH Zurich are working on a better way to collect data about cities' air quality. Researchers have started OpenSense, a project that will test out if using the existing infrastructures of public transportation and mobile phone networks could be a smart solution for monitoring pollution.
EPFL reports that since the bus system is "mobile, secure, predictable, and spread out over a given area, buses are an ideal data collection base." The assumption makes perfect sense, especially in light of other projects that are working on using cell phones as mobile units for air quality data collection.

The researchers are developing climate- and traffic-resistant sensors for vehicles, and designing ways to use mobile phones to access the data collected by the sensors. Prototypes have already been installed on the roof of a tram in Zurich and a bus in the Lausanne public transit system, which can collect atmospheric data, the presence of pollutants, and the quantity of particulates.

OpenSense could use the information from the sensors to accomplish things like tell asthma sufferers what time of day pollution is at its lowest in their particular neighborhood so they can enjoy the outdoors more comfortably. Parents could also be more aware of the quality of air in which their children are playing in a particular area of the city or time of day. The information could be access through text alerts or a smart phone app.

There are a few issues to overcome, such as making sure that the system can see exactly where the sensors are as they're picking up the information to ensure the data is attached to the location where it was collected. But if the team can iron out the kinks, this system could be useful worldwide.

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