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Networking air quality measurements

The Air Quality Egg provides accurate citizen-driven air quality tracking

By , Network World
January 17, 2013 05:14 PM ET

Network World - "Air pollution is a problem for all of us. The average adult breathes over 3,000 gallons of air every day. ... Many air pollutants, such as those that form urban smog and toxic compounds, remain in the environment for long periods of time and are carried by the winds hundreds of miles from their origin. Millions of people live in areas where urban smog, very small particles, and toxic pollutants pose serious health concerns. ... Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause cancer and long-term damage to the immune, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems."

-- US Environmental Protections Agency "Air and Radiation: Basic Information"

Air quality matters. According to the World Health Organization, urban outdoor air pollution "is responsible for 1.3 million deaths per year worldwide and indoor air pollution is estimated to cause approximately 2 million premature deaths, mostly in developing countries. Almost half of these deaths are due to pneumonia in children under 5 years of age."

While the U.S. government has an extensive network of devices monitoring our air quality, this country is so large that current monitoring only provides information about macro-scale conditions.

For example, I live in Ventura County, Calif., which has a total area of 2,208 square miles and is home to more than 823,000 people. It has hills and mountains, valleys, lakes and ocean front, and to monitor air quality there are just seven, count 'em, seven stations.

Air Quality Index Forecast
Air Quality Index Forecast for California from AIRNow

While government efforts to monitor and legislate air quality standards are impressive given the scale of the task, detailed data on the majority of local microclimates is mostly unknown (except if you live right next to one of the monitoring stations).

So, have you ever wondered how safe the air is in your local environment?

Last year I backed a Kickstarter Project that aimed to make air quality monitoring accurate and low cost. The project, the Air Quality Egg, produced by Wicked Device, is interesting for a number of reasons: First, it was a hugely popular concept, raising a total of $144,592 from 927 people on a goal of just $39,000!

Second, the project fits in with the "Internet of Things" concept, with all station data being uploaded to the 'Net and displayed on a web-based dashboard that we'll come back to in a minute.

Third, the basic version measures Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Carbon Monoxide (CO), temperature and humidity. The choice of NO2 and CO is based on high levels of those gases being indicative of poor air quality, while the temperature and humidity measurements are used to correct the gas sensors readings which are affected by both factors.

Fourth and finally, they delivered! This is in sharp contrast to a few Kickstarter projects, such as the Eyez project, which is now more than a year overdue on delivering and has failed miserably in keeping its backers updated.

My Air Quality Egg (AQE) arrived yesterday and I'm impressed by the engineering but less so by a couple of design decisions.

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