Tag Archives: pollution

Crowd-Tracking Noise and Air Pollution


A new noise/ozone sensor watch being tested in Europe.

Quantified Self enthusiast David Purdy asked me one day, “Why aren’t people measuring simple ambient things like background noise?”
I didn’t have a good answer at the time, but I do now. It turns out a project in France is doing just what David suggested.

Continue reading

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Hybrid Bicycle Tracks Your Environment


The Cophenhagen Wheel, a project of MIT’s Senseable City Lab, transforms an everyday bike into “a hybrid e-bike that provides feedback on pollution, traffic congestion and road conditions in real-time.” And yes, that’s an iPhone mounted on the handlebars.

Thanks to Nathan Yau of FlowingData
for the heads-up on this. Nathan writes:

The wheel stores energy when you pedal and brake, and turns on auto
pilot through your iPhone when you’re feeling lazy. Your iPhone is also used to switch gears and lock and
unlock your bike.

On top of that, or rather, inside the wheel, there are sensors for
torque, noise, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and location. Look back
on the environment around you, from the your data’s point of view, and
optionally, share your data with the community to contribute to a closer
view of your town.

I love this idea of passively capturing data while you cycle. There is so much environmental data available to us all the time – temperature, ambient noise, light levels, pollutants – why do we not have devices to easily capture all this information?

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How clean is your air?

I was catching up on reading Seth Roberts blog this morning and I noticed this post he made in January about seeking cleaner air in his apartment in Beijing, where he was working for several months. Seth describes a couple of different cleaning approaches, and makes the point that measuring your personal environment is not only about “cleanliness,” but also about the trade-offs you make in acquiring cleaner air. Cleaning power per dollar is one possible graph. But cleaning power per decibel is another.

VOCSensor.pngHere in the Bay Area, where ocean breezes help wash the outdoor air, our indoor environment may actually be more harmful due to high concentrations of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Here are some instructions for a very inexpensive ($14) DIY sensor device for VOCs, designed by Sunyoung Kim, at the Living Environments Lab of Carnegie Mellon University. The link instructions are clearer and more complete than the video, but I’ve posted the video for the sake of flavor. Very few of us gather numerical data on our indoor environment, but Sunyoung Kim’s project makes clear that the technical capacity to do this cheaply is already here, awaiting only a convenient package..


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Monitoring Body-Burdens

I’ve been researching how to quantify the level of exotic, synthetic chemicals which all our bodies pick up while living in a manufactured world. All modern citizens carry around traces of chemicals we are exposed to and were not born with. A few years ago, this internal pollution was given the name Human Body Burden. It is quantified by measuring up to 700 different synthetic chemicals or heavy metals than have been found in human blood, including the blood of infants in the US. The scientists engaged in the research call it Human Bio Monitoring (HBM).

Currently the costs of a doing a full-spectrum assay for an individual is on the order of $10,000, so very few individuals have been surveyed. Because of small numbers, the actual significance of the results are still uncertain — but no one is happy that any of them are present. 


David Ewing Duncan is a Bay area-based journalist who has been quantifying his body by getting his gene’s sequenced and blood tested. (His results shown above.)

Duncan wrote about his body burden in a recent issue of National Geographic, and his report is a fair document of what kinds of things this monitoring will produce. He also goes through his life to offer some suggestions of how exposure to these chemicals might have occurred. He has an entertaining time trying to track down where in his past he may have picked up high levels of obscure industrial chemicals. Duncan has turned this self-examination into a forth-coming book (fall 2008) called The Experimental Man: A Molecular Autobiography. His powerpoint presentation on this experiment so far can be downloaded here.

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