Scientists want cyclists to tell them about air pollution

Cyclists asked to trial mobile pollution devices

by Tom Henry   July 1, 2009  

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We all know what it feels like to get a lungful of exhaust from an old banger in front – now we have the chance to tell experts who are trialling a pollution management scheme.

Cyclists in London, Leicester, Gateshead and Cambridge will be asked to carry mobile sensors which measure traffic pollutants throughout the UK, and transmit data via the mobile phone network.

Pedestrians and car and bus drivers are also taking part in the trials, led by scientists at Imperial College, London.

Each sensor will measure up to five different traffic pollutants simultaneously, including carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide.

Neil Hoofe, coordinator of the Mobile Environmental Sensing System Across Grid Environments (Message) project: "We will be able to gather much finer detail about pollution, and really understand its microstructure.

"Each sensor has a satellite positioning system, so we could have a bus create a map of the air pollution as it drives along its route.

"This data could be used to provide people with local information - perhaps advice for those with respiratory problems about their journey to work.

"In a wider sense, it could also be used by traffic managers, helping them decide how to phase traffic lights in a way that might reduce traffic pollution."

The smallest sensors can be carried and linked up to mobile phones. These "electrochemical cells" convert pollutants into a small electric charge.

Larger devices, capable of monitoring temperature and noise levels as well as pollution, have been designed to be attached to lampposts and traffic light poles.

The most sophisticated and largest of the three devices, which is designed to be fitted to vehicles, uses ultraviolet light to differentiate between the pollutants.

Project director Professor John Polak, from the Centre for Transport Studies at Imperial College London, said: "There is a lot we do not know about air quality in our cities and towns because the current generation of large stationary sensors doesn't provide enough information.

"We envisage a future where hundreds and thousands of mobile sensors are deployed across the country."