Promoting air quality awareness should be a breeze.

California's Central Valley is one of the United State’s most productive agricultural regions. In the heart of the Central Valley lies the University of California, Merced, the tenth and newest campus in the UC system. UC Merced is uniquely positioned to tackle issues pertinent to our region.

One such issue is air quality. According to recent studies, agriculture is one of the world’s leading cause of fine-particulate air pollution (https://doi.org/10.1002/2016GL068354). We see this as an area to innovate. Yet we still do not have a holistic understanding of air quality.

That’s why we were inspired to build Breeze, a phone case that turns any phone into an IoT air quality sensor. Tapping into the largest pre-existing distributed network of IoT devices—our phones—, we have built this case to actively monitor, crowdsource, and visualize air quality.

We met with Akeiylah DeWitt, an intern for the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, to discuss the importance and relevance of open-source data in tackling these sorts of large-scale problems.

“Data collection is the first and often most daunting step to research. And research eventually influences policy-making. Breeze builds this pipeline of data that can be utilized in the Central Valley and beyond,” said Akeiylah DeWitt.

But for many, like those afflicted with asthma, over 25 million individuals in just the United States, this isn’t just a pretty data set: this is need-to-know information. With Breeze, we can alert sensitive populations to worsening air quality through trend analysis of the data their phones are collecting for them. And with growing urban populations, and, in turn, more expansive farming, this data will only become more relevant.

Breeze started out with a simple idea: what if we slapped an MQ135 air quality sensor on a phone? The idea expanded into a full stack solution: storing data in a SQL database and visualizing with MapBox GL. And this solution is viable. For less than a few dollars per case, we can distribute these sensors in critical areas to gather valuable, real time data.

Breeze is a 3D printed phone case that transmits air quality data via any device's headphone jack. The reading is interpreted by a web application where data is logged with the phone's associated GPS location and notifications are sent if air quality surpasses defined thresholds. Using the phone's headphone jack means the case is simply expanding functionality of a preexisting IoT device.

In the end, we aim to start a grassroots movement around recognizing and innovating on air quality. Do we think a phone case is the solution? Perhaps not, but we built this as a call to the mobile phone industry: we have massive potential for crowdsourcing environmental data and we implore industry leaders to install air quality sensors in all phones by 2030 to help in these efforts.

Inspiration

Air quality is a relevant societal issue as we continue to industrialize across the global, and is especially relevant in today's climate as California, in 2017, just had the most destructive wildfire season on record. These wildfires not only destroyed 10,000 buildings, but also significantly worsened air quality, causing long-term health problems. Emissions from wildfires can significantly contribute to urban air pollution. Evidence of this is that the Environmental Protection Agency reported that 27% of carbon monoxide and 17% of fine particulate matter emissions in California was due to wildfires. Smoke generated from wildfires from thousands of miles away can impact air quality in urban areas, and can cause these areas to exceed the EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Increased air pollution due to wildfires exacerbates pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, such as asthma. Between agriculture and wildfires, California is in need of a more holistic understanding of air quality. Especially for at-risk populations like those with asthma, we hope to provide more data for improved decision-making and awareness to help curb future effects of worsening air quality and can eventually lead to policy-making to set higher standards for air quality.

Voting

Voting is closed!