• What is the iSpex-EU Air Pollution Project? And How Can I Get Involved?

Air Monitoring

What is the iSpex-EU Air Pollution Project? And How Can I Get Involved?

Sep 08 2015

As part of a Europe-wide initiative to gain better understanding of the level of pollution in the air we breathe, a Netherlands-based project is calling on inhabitants of major cities, such as London and Manchester, to help gather data using open-source technology.

The project, called iSpex-EU, asks Smartphone owners to use a free accessory to enable them to monitor daily levels of particles in the air, known as atmospheric aerosols. The idea is that by using the citizenry of major towns and cities across Europe, the researchers at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands will be able to gain an overview of population levels across the continent. Since the technology is open-source, it will also be able to be viewed and interpreted by locals, allowing them to adjust travel routes to avoid pollution hotspots.

How it Works

The initiative was trialled in Leiden back in 2013 to develop an overview of pollution across the Netherlands. Now, the coordinators of the project want to expand it over the continent to increase our knowledge of pollution patterns and trends. It could be the perfect time to bring the technology to the UK, especially since the recent Air Quality Emissions (AQE) show showcased open-source technology similar to iSpex in front of record attendance numbers.

To become involved in the project and begin gathering data, all you need is an iPhone and a special accessory known as an “iSpex add-on”. Then, users must scan the sky with their device. Based upon the amount of light which is able to enter the camera, the polarisation of that light and the angle of its entry, the ingenious little accessory will be able to determine particle levels in the air.

Of course, one other factor which could prove to be a problem among the intemperate climate of the UK is that for iSpex to work, it requires a clear, blue sky. The abundance of cloud cover and rainfall may make this more difficult than in other cities around Europe, but hopefully the incentive will not fail due to a shortage of volunteers.

How to Get Involved

The campaign is due to run from now until the middle of October. In total, around 1,500 British volunteers are desired, with half of these hailing from Manchester and the other half from the capital.

In order to get involved and become an iSpex-EU volunteer, all you need to do is get in contact with the research team at the University of Leiden or at participating outlets around the continent (contact details can be found at the official website of the initiative) and request an accessory, which will be mailed to you free of charge.  

A downloadable app (also free) will then interpret data collected and upload it both to the app and the desktop, so that it can be viewed in colour-coded format by anyone. The iSpex team in Netherlands will conduct further analysis upon it, as well.

A similar project was undertaken earlier this year in New York and the trend has spread to Canada, as well. Now it looks as though the whole of Europe may get on board – if successful, this open-source technology could revolutionise the way we measure the cleanliness of our air.


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