Fighting Air Pollution with Mobile Apps? It’s already happening.

Air pollution is nowadays one of the major topics brought up in the discussion regarding environmental issues. Especially in Poland, which according to numerous researches and monitoring stations has drasticly lower air quality than other European countries.

However, as always, various software companies and developers came up with an easy way to make everyday life better. Thanks to a number of really simple mobile applications, we can observe the quality of air, in some cases almost in real time. Even though it won’t make air cleaner, but it may help in spreading the awareness which may be the first step making the world a better place. Yeah, I know it’s cliche.

Cause and effect

Etymologically, word smog comes from combination of smoke and fog. It’s composed mostly of nitrogen and sulphur oxides, ozone, smoke and dirt, plus some other less visible elements, for example chlorofluorocarbons (Freon). Smog is caused by fossil fuels burnings and coal emissions such as vehicular emissions, industrial emissions and photochemical reactions.

Smog caused by vehicular emmisions

Smog negative effects on human health are definitely bad. From breathing passages inflammation, decreased lung capacity and breath shortness, through eyes and nose irritation and rising susceptibility to illness, ending on yet unproven but suspected correlations between smog and asthma, rising respiratory deaths and cancers. Plus, big cities are no longer beautiful and hip.

Now, some people try to fight the smog and air pollution. Electric cars that no longer burn fossil fuels, the search for new energy sources and green energy as well as mandatory pollution taxes and fines — these are just some of the measures taken. However, what I think is even more important is to educate people. To make any change in the reality that surrounds us, we need to make change to the way we think.

And here is where smog apps come into play.

The way it works

Practically all apps specialized in air quality monitoring work in the same or very similar way.

The app connects with databases filled with data feeds from various air quality monitoring stations. Some of these monitoring stations are part of national environmental politics, some are parts of research centers and universities and some are run by private companies. The data collected by monitoring stations are usually easy to obtain and working with it is treated as a common interest in environmental control.

All of the smog apps use these data and show them to the user. Pretty simple, eh? However, the most important thing is to know how to show that data in an intuitive and easy-to-use way, which the more data you have to display the more difficult it becomes.

Now, let’s look at some concrete examples.

AirVisual

One of the most popular air quality apps for both Android and iOS devices marketed as a “air quality forecast app” offers data for more than 10,000 cities worldwide. And, boy, it has a ton of functionalities. For starters you get 7-day air pollution and weather forecast, 2D and 3D interactive maps of air quality plus a ton of information on lowering the risk of pollution related diseases, tips for those lung problems and overall health notions. It’s also available in more than 10 languages, and new localization are added.

AirVisual Node

If you want more, they offer a private monitor, AirVisual Node. It is a small device which helps you monitor the air quality in your home where there’s usually no public air quality monitoring station. For more information see the AirVisual official website.

Plume

Plume, also available for Android and iOS, is the second big name in the smog monitoring mobile applications. Available for thousands of cities worldwide. While the basic usability and features is very similar to those offered by AirVisual, the biggest difference is the “device companion”. While the AirVisual Node is designed with home/office use in mind, Plume Flow is more of a companion — a device which is designed to be brought with you outside and, luckily, at all times.

Plume Air Report from Plume Labs

Polish smog mobile apps

During the last year air quality in Poland became a hot topic. Bottom line — Polish air is bad. To back this statement up and share the awareness many developers took interest in creating air quality apps for polish users. Here are three I find most interesting.

First, one of the best Polish air quality monitoring mobile apps is Kanarek. It gives mostly the same features that other air quality apps give, meaning almost real-time air quality reports, the composition of the air (you can see exactly what element/compound goes over the healthy amounts) and so on. Kanarek get the data from GIOS which is a the biggest Polish public organization for these kind of monitoring. Thanks to the data from GIOS stations supplemented with their own devices, Kanarek gives a very detailed analysis of the air in practically every city in Poland.

Kanarek is focused on showing alerts and notifications rather than maps and visualisations. Additionally, Kanarek’s own server sends request to GIOS API and just shares them with the users’ devices, which in turn makes it much faster, than in case of devices directly connecting to GIOS database. The downside? Kanarek is only available on Android devices.

Another mobile app, Smog24, shows a very interesting approach. Instead of going broad and wide, its creator focused solely on Silesia, a region which is considered as the most industrialized, coal-reliant (and coal-mining) voivodeship in the whole Poland. Smog24 is available for iOS only and, while the data it shows are quite accurate, some users report slight problems with app optimization.

The last app I feel is worth mentioning is Smok Smog, designed for the city of Krakow, known as one of the most heavily air polluted in Poland for years. This classic app released years before air quality became a hot topic, offers detailed insight into air composition through the city in a very intuitive in clear manner. A great companion for anyone visiting Krakow worried about their health.

Do you use air quality apps yourself? If there are any other apps worth mentioning or you developed one yourself be sure to share it.