Cities around the world are facing the negative effects of rising particulate matter and pollutant levels in the air. On a global scale, outdoor air pollution is currently accelerating climate change and global warming. On an individual human level, it is associated with numerous health conditions such as respiratory disease, cancer and mental health disorders. In recent years, developing countries have seen dramatic rises in air pollution. These countries are often the least equipped to deal with this increasing challenge.
Citizen science initiatives have been developed in a number of countries, within which local people collect data on air quality using particulate matter sensors. This year’s Sensor CDT Team Challenge at the University of Cambridge resulted in CamBike Sensor, a low-cost mobile citizen science air pollution sensor network. The project has received an extraordinarily positive response in the local community. A team of postgraduate students engaged more than twenty volunteers who currently carry sensors to map air quality levels around Cambridge at different times of the day. We are now extending the low-cost Cambridge design to fast-growing developing world cities. Recently, the project was given the name ‘open-seneca’ to represent the open-source aspect of the project and demonstrate the versatile nature of the sensor, which can be carried by various vehicles as well as pedestrians. The current sensor hub can be adapted collaboratively to consider the challenges and opportunities of measuring air quality in urban environments of developing countries, with modifications identified jointly by Cambridge and local researchers as well as citizens.

At this point, the open-seneca hub consist of a Sensirion particulate matter sensor as well as optional Alphasense gas sensors. The pollutant sensors are accompanied by a GPS module in order to correlate the air pollution data to a certain location. The sensor’s output is computed on a Black Pill microcontroller and is sent to the data base via GSM, where the user is able to plot the individual tracks and aggregated pollution maps. In case the communication between GSM module and data base is interrupted, a SD card module secures the pollution data backup. The hub is fitted into commercially available project boxes. All components are off-the-shelf and available from electronics providers.

The Team

  • Charles has a background in physics and mathematics. He is responsible for data analysis and software.
  • Lorena studied electrical engineering. She’s leading the team and is designing the hardware.
  • Christoph is responsible for outreach activities, communication and social media. His background is chemistry and nanotechnology.
  • Sebastian’s background is in physics of medicine. He works on the hardware and the embedded software.
  • Raphaël has a background in physics. He is responsible for the sensor casing and designing promotional material.
  • Peter holds degrees in astrophysics. He is working on the interface of hardware design and data analysis.

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