Smart cities need smart citizens

Air Quality Sensor Kick Starts In Barcelona

Air quality sensor meeting IoT Barcelona October 27

A new community-funded air quality sensor is about to be deployed around the world, giving local residents access to their own air quality testing system


Air Quality Egg is a new air quality sensor being released as part of a community-led project, organized by cosm. The Arduino-based air quality testing sensor will be distributed internationally in November 2012 to over 1,000 kickstarter funding partners.


On the weekend of 27-28 October, the Internet of Things Barcelona meetup presented the new Air Quality Egg sensor at their ‘In The Air’ event series. The series was co-hosted by cosm and the Barcelona-based ABureau. The meetup – modeled on similar successful communities operating in New York, London, Amsterdam and Madrid – will create projects aimed at showcasing how citizens and community members can design and implement urban living solutions using smart cities technology.


The Air Quality Egg sensor is being internationally deployed within the next month. It is hoped that the project will not only introduce a basic air quality testing infrastructure to local residents, but will serve to introduce more urbanists to the potential role sensors play in an urban environment. It will also give locals the opportunity to make use of the data that is collected. At the IoT Barcelona meetup, organizers were looking to group members to assist with identifying community-level projects that could raise awareness of this infrastructure and its benefits to urban life. In theory, the project could provide data so that:

  • Local neighborhood households are encouraged to car pool on days with higher readings


  • Community groups could use data to advocate for higher regulation of industry pollutants, for changes to road speed limits, for higher car ownership taxes, or for greater public transport and neighborhood walkability


  • City authorities could use the data to increase incentives for local residents to use bike rental schemes or public transport on high pollutant days


  • Data could be used by developers to create local apps that generate preferential running routes or bike travel routes through a city to avoid poor air quality neighborhoods.


Speaking at the meetup series, Ed Borden (Cosm Platform Evangelist) explained that Air Quality Egg is an international Kickstarter-funded initiative. The project has designed and built an air quality testing sensor that can now be deployed across an urban environment. Sensors will be hosted by individual citizens and relay realtime data to a shared cosm dashboard.


Left: The initial kickstarter project explains how the Air Quality Egg project will work.


The sensors will not be highly accurate at measuring air pollution such as exact levels of CO2 or particles per cubic meter. Due to the level of accuracy of sensors used and their cross-sensitivity to temperature and other factors, the goal of this initial project is to introduce communities and citizens to the potential of sensemaking. Relational trend data will be shared that expresses whether air quality is “worse” or “better” than yesterday or whether it is “worse” or “better than” another neighborhood block where air quality is also being measured.


Air quality sensor egg

Air Quality Egg chassis prototype

Cosm created the Air Quality Egg prototype using a 3D printer and is in the process of mass-producing the initial run of sensors, prior to their distribution in about 3 weeks time. The project takes a similar approach to community-led initiatives such as how radiation sensor data was shared after the Fukishima disaster, and the urban guerrilla-initiated Don’t Flush Me project in New York City, aimed at reducing sewage overspill into the Hudson River.


The Air Quality Egg has been built using Arduino sensors and a custom air quality sensor “shield” (hardware module) created by the project team.


Five Air Quality Eggs are slated to be distributed in the Poble Nou neighborhood of Barcelona by uABureau. They will be hosted by uABureau volunteer sensemakers.


Air quality sensor egg internal

Inside the Air Quality Egg (without the custom Arduino shield)

uABureau are also designing a data visualization to display readings in a novel interface. It uses images of the host sensemaker’s reactions to the air quality levels. Current air quality is shown by morphing the color and pixel size of the image. The data visualization would draw on readings from cosm’s sensor data dashboards and be maintained in realtime. By using local projections, or augmented reality, the results could be conveyed to other residents in the neighborhood. Some stumbling blocks still remain with using augmented reality to display data results in this way.


Community understanding of sensor technology and its’ potential use by local citizens is still limited. Projects like Air Quality Egg are being organized and implemented by technologists and Internet-of-Things enthusiasts and geeks who may not yet have networks with community groups or resident advocates. In many cities, the term “smart cities” is still fairly much rhetoric that is beyond the reach of local citizens. It is hoped that a project like Air Quality Egg will inspire local households to see the potential of hyperlocal realtime data and encourage greater use of sensor technologies for citizen engagement. This project is novel in creating an urban sensor infrastructure outside of the control of city authorities or large-scale private funding.


Would you install an air quality sensor at your home to help collect hyperlocal data on air quality levels? How would you use the data from an air quality project like this? What are your concerns about air quality in your neighborhood? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.