Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Sharing Pollution Analytics

A while ago, [Joshua Young] had a conversation with an environmental scientist. There aren’t many government-funded pollution monitoring stations around Texas, but there are a lot of well-off home owners associations in Houston that have the sensors to collect the data. Air quality monitoring is important, and more data is usually better, and without these HOA’s providing the data for free, these environmental scientists wouldn’t have the data to do their job.

[Joshua]’s project is taking the idea a few members of those HOA’s had and expanding it to the entire world. For his entry to the Hackaday Prize, he’s creating a system to share local pollution data with the entire Internet.

The system [Joshua] is building uses a suite of air quality sensors to measure sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and particulate matter. These sensors connect to the Internet through either an ESP8266 WiFi module or a LoRa radio module, push the data onto the cloud, and let the entire world know what the air quality is.

Using tens of thousands of individual base stations to gather data has been done before; Weather Underground uses ten times as many weather stations than the National Weather Service to get better weather tracking resolution. Pollution sensors aren’t normally a part of a weather station, and with [Joshua]’s project, the environmental scientists tracking this data will hopefully get the data they need.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

6 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Sharing Pollution Analytics

  1. Home Owners Association? You mean “a bunch of busy-bodies who have nothing better to do than tell other people in their neighborhood how to live.” Just like a lot of the environmental “scientists” who wander around in flip-flops, hemp clothing, and banging on bongo drums while whining about unfair drug laws. The _only_ reason an HOA would be monitoring air quality is to have concrete information to present the “offending” owner of a barbeque or flower garden with while demanding a fine.

    1. Yes, not much love for the HOA’s from myself either, I think my grass looks fine; the point is that a non official environmental entity can provide data good enough for an official agency to use. That is a small prof of concept, taken with the success of weather underground that pleads the case that with some forethought a device may be made to collect data that is not only informative but useful to scientists and researchers of all backgrounds. For hackers it would seem clear more knowledge is better as long as it is coming from a fairly reliable source. This could be used to calm the hysteria of extremists telling us the end times are near for a town or conversely to highlight when there may be a real problem. In the case of some of the Houston HOA’s, there are some proximal refineries that experience “events” where many tons of chemicals may escape out of a ruptured storage tank and float over to a nearby subdivision and send those in the cloud path to the hospital.
      It is not my aim to get to wrapped up in any politics, but provide a means of knowing just a little bit more about the part of the world that is around us. This would give those interested air quality a way to nerd out with each other about what they are seeing in their neighborhood and all the while providing a usable data base to others who don’t have the resources to place sensors all over the state to test their hypotheses.

  2. A neat idea, but without a calibration method any sensor is useless. Anybody can dunk a thermometer in iced/boiling water and adjust for altitude but most people don’t have NOx and SOx standards on hand to calibrate against. Additionally having a maintenance and recalibration schedule is important.

    1. Excellent point, I have been conversing with a few folks at the EPA and am working to see how calibration and certification may be facilitated. There is really only so much I may do until I have a working prototype to send for review. I have taken several projects through an extensive certification process and do realize that it can be quite an undertaking.

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