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CleanSpace App showing air quality in Greater Omaha, Nebraska region on 30-Jan-2016
CleanSpace App showing air quality in Greater Omaha, Nebraska region on 30-Jan-2016

CleanSpace and Our Dirty Air

Drayson Technologies in the UK has created a personal air pollution monitor that fits on your phone, allowing you to track local air quality and rewards you when you don't pollute.

Last September, a British firm successfully crowdfunded a miniature air quality sensor that attaches to your phone. It's called CleanSpace. The firm, Drayson Technologies, headquartered in London, is run by Paul Drayson, actually Lord Drayson, a real-life Peer of the Realm, so to speak. A former minister in the British government, he also holds the land speed record for the fastest electric car under 1000 kg at more than 200 miles per hour, set in 2013. He briefly also owned one of the original ten Formula E racing teams, selling it to the Trulli Group, so he could concentrate on his electronics firm.

In effect, as Paul explained to me earlier this week during our interview for EV World, Drayson Technologies moved from the really high-power side of the energy spectrum to the extremely low-power end measured in nanowatts. His engineers took a 50-year-old idea NASA played with in the 60s and created a commercial product out it that 'harvests' the energy in radio waves (RF) all around us and uses it to power really low-energy devices, the first product being an air quality sensor that attaches to the back of a smart phone. The energy harvester is called FreeVolt, the sensor, CleanSpace.

Basically, they work like this. The embedded RF antenna captures the energy in the radio transmissions all around us that powers our television, radio, cellular, WiFi, etc. It converts that into an electrical current that powers a micro-sensor that detects carbon monoxide (CO) levels in the surrounding air. This information is then linked via Bluetooth to the phone's CleanSpace App. If the phone user wishes, they can share that information with the "cloud" allowing the creation of up-to-moment, highly localized air quality mapping, at least for CO. A nitrogen oxide (NOx) sensor is in the works.

At the moment, the CleanSpace "tag" as they call it, is only available in the UK. Certification is underway for the wider European Union and the United States. While the "tag" isn't yet available for the US, the App still has value, depicting, as the above screen capture from today, January 30, 2016, air quality for the Greater Omaha, Nebraska region.

I have to admit that I was surprised by what I saw when I installed on my phone. It turns out, at least according to the App, that the southern side of the region, which is mostly rural farm land, has lower air quality than the northern, more urban side. Why that is, I am not sure. It could be prevailing winds from a large coal plant across the river in Iowa, or there is more car traffic due to suburban sprawl on this side of town. I've asked CleanSpace for more information on their data source for the US, since there are no CleanSpace tags reporting from this side of the Atlantic yet.

According to the US EPA's AirNow.gov website, the air quality in and around the Omaha metro area is, at the moment 'good.' They measure ozone and particulates, microscopic particles, typically made up of un-combusted hydrocarbons from trucks and other diesel engines. Surprisingly, if you run their air quality forecast animation, they show a bloom of 'moderate' air quality some 100 miles southwest of the Omaha area, down near Lincoln, the capital, as well as in the greater Kansas City region.

Not that the air locally is all that pristine locally as an article this time a year ago in the Omaha World Herald revealed. The region has been tittering for some time now on being non-compliant, which would endanger the community's access to federal funding.

The value of having your own personal air quality monitor is that it highlights the problem in a very visible and immediate way. The quality of air you're breathing at that very moment is visible with a tap of the app. Just seeing the result for where I live prompted me to do more research and to share this with our readers. And it confirms what I saw physically several years ago with my own two eyes.

I was given permission by my city to climb one of our water towers to survey it as a possible location for a wind speed meter. Rising a couple hundred feed above the ground I could see for miles in every direction. What I also saw was a thin, yellow layer of 'haze' suspended over the entire city. You can't see it from the ground, but it's there. It's the by-product of all those trucks and car and buses and trains and planes that travel through the region.

While I might quibble with the differences in the two air quality maps - CleanSpace versus US EPA - it's obvious we have a problem. But if you think this is bad, take a look at China. Holy cow! Most of the country is in the red, hazardous-to-your-health, zone. But then if you have to wear a mask to every time you go outside, you don't need an app for that.

Posted By: Bill Moore [30-Jan-2016]

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