Taking A Stance: The Smartphone's Fight Against Pollution

Mobile fighting pollution

Smartphones going green

Forget hungry sharks, angry crocodiles and killer koala's, there's a bigger danger to Australian's (and individuals around the world)... air pollution. It has fast become one of the major concerns to human's health, in fact, it is now so bad that in some western countries alone car emissions kill twice as many people as car crashes. On a more global scale, air pollution is now responsible for roughly 10 million severe health issues, and case's of death each year.

As a result, it has recently being awarded the unfavorable title on the Top Ten Health Risks faced by human beings. Certainly not a list you would want to be on.

Although global warming has gained a level of attention over the past few years, largely due to the exposure Al Gore was able to muster up with his documentary 'The Inconvenient Truth', the rectification of pollution is more so seen as an 'inconvenience' to many, rather than an issue that requires desperate action. Despite it's significant impact, and risk, air quality just doesn't seem to be placed in the same light as other 'man-made' issues like alcohol, smoking, drug abuse and obesity.

Current Fixes

City pollution

In an article put together by the team at The Conversation, the need for awareness is raised, in regards to the development and impact of smart cities and smart devices, which they feel can potentially have a greater impact in the fight against pollution than we first imagined.

"Technology companies, universities and start-ups across the world are working to bring futuristic smart cities to life. Whether it’s automatic transportation infrastructure or digital government systems, this concept is spawning great ideas to improve our lives through the use of data and technology. But in the race to transform our cities, we need to ensure these smart systems enable our smarter lives to be longer lives, and by putting data to use we can help combat the ill-effects of bad air."

They go on to discuss the current air monitoring techniques in place to address the issue of air pollution around the world.

"In the UK there are a number of air monitoring systems in place, such as Defra’s Automatic Urban and Rural Network of over 175 monitoring sites across the UK, along with several air pollution monitoring stations that in the US which are run under the umbrella of US Environmental Protection Agency to maintain and preserve the quality of the nation’s air."

The major issue's surrounding these current measures are two-fold. The first being cost, the second, successful maintenance. They also often miss crucial information and only provide a snapshot of a particular area rather than insight into important pollution hotspots within city environments, area's seen as the most dangerous by some.

Although there is a movement to improve the quality of air pollution, enough just hasn't been done in recent times, but maybe, just maybe, mobile could make a small difference.

How Mobile is Making a Difference

Mobile difference

Mobile devices are already making a difference to health-focused groups around the would, the addition of air pollution reduction could be just another trophy on the mantle. For example, Apple's introduction of the ResearchKit app is helping scientists around the world tap into larger sample pools in their fight against various health conditions and diseases which require participant involvement.

Mobile is also helping people in less developed countries, giving medical advice to those in desperate need. Totohealth for example, helps mothers from rural areas of Africa receive free medical advices for their children via SMS, helping to stem the rate of mortality amongst infants. We have even seen first hand how smartphones and SMS have help to assist the CFA in Australia, with a drive to increase volunteers for summer bushfires, and help with alerting those in danger of natural disasters.

The Mobile Fight Against Pollution

SMS Safety Alerts

The smartphone's battle to rid air pollution is a very real one with big hurdles to climb. Baby steps are being made through application's and SMS communications, vital tools that are beginning to provide assistance to those struggling in highly polluted areas through information updates about air quality.

Welcome additions to the market are solutions like Birdi, a personalised device similar to that of a fire alarm, that helps you track the health of your home. It gives users information about levels of dust, VOCs, temperature & humidity. Even external dangers such as pollution, pollen and particulates, information all obtainable via mobile.

Initiatives like airTEXT are also making small inroads into the fight against air pollution in larger areas such as towns and small cities. Users who sign up to the system receive a free text, email or voicemail message. The airTEXT system provides forecasts of air quality (air pollution), UV, grass pollen and temperatures within the UK allowing those in the area, or those entering the space to make informed health decisions and avoid the high pollution areas.

A more global solution has been the Air Quality Egg, a community-led air quality sensing network that gives people a way to participate in the conversation about air quality. The Air Quality Egg is a sensor system designed to allow anyone to collect very high-resolution readings of NO2 and CO concentrations outside of their home (the two gases that are most indicative to urban air pollution). The service includes embeddable graphs and the ability to generate triggers for tweets and SMS alerts, as well as a robust API which allows for developers in the community to unlock the potential of this new dataset by building mashups, maps, and applications.

Leading from the Front

While mobile devices may not be the quick fix everyone is looking for, it is making steps towards a better quality of life moving forwards. There is still much room for improvement and it's felt mobile devices and their quality of rich data, along with ability to communicate instantly to audiences around the world, can make a big difference in the fight against air pollution.

If governmental power don't act to force change, then people around the world need to act to ensure they can improve the quality of life for their fellow man. These simple mobile applications and SMS message programs, in conjunction with community pollution programs, will give individuals more insight into the impact of air pollution on their health, along with allowing them to make appropriate decisions about their family and friends as well.

Although only a small step for now, it's certainly a leap in the right direction.