CanAirIO: Air Quality Monitoring Democratized

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What can be measured, can be improved.

With air pollution being the world’s leading environmental health issue, with 91 percent of the world’s population living in places with air quality exceeding World Health Organization limits – measuring and monitoring air quality effectively is an increasingly critical problem. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports indicate that healthcare costs associated with air pollution-related illnesses will increase nearly nine-fold from $21 billion to $176 billion, between 2015-2060. There is a need for localized, cost-effective, reliable solutions that are accessible, and accurate enough.

Developed by two Columbians in Bogota, Alvaro Vanegas and Daniel Bernal, CanAirIO is a low-cost, open-source air quality monitoring solution that empowers citizens to track, record and share information regarding air pollution in their local environments. Air monitoring is usually officially managed by civil or municipal authorities with a few large, expensive air monitoring networks using traditional sensors in select locations. These solutions typically cost between $30,000 – $100,000 and reporting is limited from a few spots controlled by and directly accessible largely to officials. Further, the limited deployment (just about 10,000 stations worldwide reporting real-time) along with inconsistencies in measurement of air pollutants targeted has resulted in air quality monitoring today which is neither universal nor as readily available to guide decision-making and awareness.

The CanAirIO app interface. Image courtesy of GitHub.

With CanAirIO, any ordinary citizen can build the device in a few hours and deploy it as a mobile or fixed station that reports air quality (PM 1, 2.5, and 10 values) at a local-level, to directly identify or confirm sources of pollution, and where the air is safe or not. It can be used for mobile monitoring, using an app, cellphone and Bluetooth, or static monitoring, using WiFI. With the cloud, this data can be shared publicly, and citizens can track air quality in multiple areas using the app. The more devices there are, the larger and greater number of inputs the network has. It is precisely such low-cost, effective solutions that can fill the huge gaps in traditional air quality monitoring, and empower individuals.

The CanAirIO, with laser cut and 3D-printed housing. Image courtesy of Thingiverse.

For instance, in Bogota, it helped confirm existing public transportation – buses, as the primary cause of air pollution in the city, and that the air quality was ten times worse when traveling in these buses. In the hands of residents at a local level, this information pressured state authorities to adopt new, cleaner buses into the public transport system. While CanAirIO isn’t as accurate as traditional equipment, it provides information accurate enough to track trends and forecast patterns that can guide democratized decision-making, and allow air quality to be measured anywhere, by anyone. These solutions can be used while moving, worn while walking or running, on a bike or car, or while stationary, inside a home, factory, or outside in key areas of a city. Data is made available to residents real-time to inform, and to validate official data.

With a cost of just $50 to $100 to develop, CanAirIO is available freely to individuals across the world, and uses open-source code and off-the-shelf hardware to improve accessibility. In addition, the box holding the components and sensors can be 3D printed in PLA using design files provided by CanAirIO.

In these low-cost air quality monitoring solutions, 3D printing can be used to build cheap, custom and effective housings, enclosures and adapters for the sensors and electronics. 3D printing has also enabled filtering and containment enclosure solutions for toxic or harmful gases released while the printer runs, as we have seen with 3D Print Clean. In addition, there are a whole array of DIY products that can be 3D printed.

For CanAirIO, workshops have been delivered on YouTube in how to build the air sensor module as the founders seek to reach and empower communities and individuals across the world. Its founders believe such citizen-driven projects and citizen networks are critical to mapping, independently validating, and addressing air pollution globally at the individual and community level.

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