Urban Air is a non-profit initiative by Social Seva that uses distributed sensor networks to measure air pollution levels in Indian cities. The guiding mission behind the platform is to provide citizens, researchers and policy makers with unadulterated, high quality pollution data to make informed, data-driven decisions.
Air pollution is a major issue in Indian cities. Research studies have found that pollution levels in urban India are often orders of magnitude higher than recommended levels. There are well established health impacts of chronic exposure to air pollution and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recently found that Indian air pollution resulted in over a million pre-mature deaths annually. Other studies have found that long-term exposure to air pollution severely impacts lung function in urban Indian citizens. Recent research has even linked urban air pollution to reductions in agricultural output and regional climate change. There is thus an urgent need to monitor real time pollution levels as accurately as possible and make the information easily accessible to the relevant stakeholders.
Unfortunately, there are huge gaps in the existing data sets and official monitoring methodologies are rarely transparent or open to review. The equipment used often costs crores of rupees (hundreds of thousands of dollars) and offers limited spatial coverage. On the other side of the spectrum, portals that crowd source air quality information are often informed by low quality instruments with high error percentages. The end result is a dearth of openly available research grade data to inform policy.
The Urban Air Initiative is an attempt to straddle the middle ground, using mid-range, distributed instrumentation to provide accurate, open and spatially distributed air pollution measurements. We are hardware agnostic and work collaboratively with academic, government and private partners to ensure that our sensor networks optimize for both price and data quality. In collaboration with partners at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology we leverage 3rd party breakthroughs in low-cost sensor technology and remote communication to assemble high fidelity monitoring nodes. As the data is collected, a key area of focus is using advanced analytics and intuitive visualisations to disseminate information to non-technical stakeholders and create dynamic pollution maps.
The project is currently in its pilot stage and is focused on implementing a monitoring network in the city of Pune.
The table below is based off USEPA guidelines and provides a basic understanding of how harmful the exposure to various pollutants can be.