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Tracking Air Pollution: Droid Does

Posted Sep 22 2010 10:14am

IStock_000010651077XSmall Calculating air quality requires copious amounts of time, money, and/or bees . Despite the importance of reducing air pollution, getting relevant data isn't a process that greatly accommodates those who seek it. Diffusion tubes, plastic cups, air pumps, filters, the aforementioned bees, a vacuum cleaner ; each of these devices have been used in some capacity to track air pollutants. But the resources and hours put into such a task have created a need for a fast, effective, widespread method to record just how disgusting a particular chunk of sky may be.

USC's Viterbi School of Engineering has developed somewhat of an answer , and step one could be sitting in your pocket.

Sameera Poduri, Anoop Nimkar, and Gaurav Sukhatme created a new Android application that measures how smog-laden the air above you is. After downloading the app, simply snap a picture of the slice of sky you're most suspicious of. Using an algorithm that takes into account both geographic location and the direction the camera's pointing, the information shoots back to a USC database, where the calculation happens and gets relayed back to you. 

With enough photos snapped in enough places, problem areas will be much more easily identified. Anyone with an Android (or soon, an iPhone) is transformed into a research scientist, making it a group effort with the potential to really amass some important answers. Chances are, though, the bees will remain confused.

--Justin Klugh

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