Sensing the City: A low-cost mobile air quality sensor network


University of Strathclyde

Project abstract

The University of Strathclyde Institute for Future Cities and CENSIS are together rolling out an innovative project entitled ‘Sensing the City’. The project has developed a low cost mobile Air Quality (AQ) sensor system that complements static sensing, with the ability to utilise transport systems as a dynamic sensing network.

Countries throughout the world have a need, and in most cases a legal obligation, to ensure air quality is meeting specific standards. Policies are being developed to reduce exposure to air pollution, by reducing emissions and setting limits and target values for air quality.

Countries report air quality measurement data for a set of pollutants, in the main using static stations equipped with specific, and high cost, sensing technologies. Whilst these stations provide highly accurate data, their cost limits the quantity of deployments, leaving gaps in coverage. Low-cost systems, such as we have demonstrated, can be deployed flexibly and rapidly, in static or mobile configurations, to complement the static stations. This can provide indicative air quality data in areas without coverage in order to support identification of pollution sources. Such systems can also gather data in a volume and with the rapidity required to support model comparison and to identify trends. The latter capability is important to identifying both short-term issues which require intervention responses and longer-term trends which may be indicative of other underlying issues which need to be addressed.

This innovative prototype focuses on distributed environmental sensing using vehicles as a mobile platform. The current sensor configuration monitors and records: Carbon Monoxide (CO), Particulate Matter (PM), temperature, humidity, pressure, Nitric Oxide (NO), Nitric Dioxide (NO2), Ozone (O3) and position.

The mobile sensor network uses always connected mobile communications and cloud hosting to ensure flexibility, reliability and near-real-time data delivery. An interactive web-based user dashboard visualises the data, allows interaction with the cloud services and includes the capability to embed data processing and analytics outputs; e.g. by using the data to drive city-specific AQ models and derive predictive and interpolative output. This gives users full control and the ability to make informed, and where necessary, potentially dynamic decisions.

Highlight of current system capabilities:

  • Reliable capture of sensor readings from multiple nodes against location in near real-time
  • Low-cost and flexible/scalable system: allows update to sensors, processing platform and cloud service
  • Robust system operation: able to record and upload sensor readings during 3G signal loss
  • Efficient cloud-based data gathering platform
  • Temporal and geo-spatial visualisation of AQ data
  • Remote access allowing Over-the-air (OTA) updates, configuration and debug

The project is currently in phase 1 with future plans to grow coverage, introduce analytics, extend communication protocols and optimise sensor detection sensitivity.

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