CoCIS pioneers research in environment sensing in East Africa

12 January 2018
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AirQo Monitor – a low cost air pollution monitoring technology.  Researchers at the College of Computing and Information Sciences have developed low-cost air monitoring devices to measure air quality.  Researchers have innovatively deployed a network of air quality monitors on boda-bodas and street lights and buildings in selected areas of Kampala city to produce a detailed and near real-time map of air pollution map.

The research team is led by Department of Computer Science Associate Professor Engineer Bainomugisha in partnership with Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), and University of Sheffield. Each AirQo monitor remotely sends air quality data for mapping and analytics. The air quality data includes levels of Particulate Matter (PM) particles of sizes 1, 10 & 2.5 micrometers, which are considered a key indicator of air quality. These particles are small enough to enter the lungs and cause major health problems. To put it in context, the diameter of a single human hair is about 30 times larger than PM 2.5 particle. The AirQo can be customized to measure other major health damaging pollutants including Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide.

 The WHO considers air pollution a major health and environmental risk, yet there is no regular air pollution monitoring or research into its spatial distribution in Kampala and other major cities in Uganda. This leaves citizens in the dark about their exposure.  The researchers believe that there is an urgent unmet need to identify the sources and quantify the scale of air pollution, its spatial and temporal distribution and causes. This is vital if we are to motivate the changes required to reduce or better manage the air pollution problem.

The AirQo innovation is a major improvement over the traditional air pollution monitors and deployment models. Air quality monitoring equipment has traditionally been prohibitively expensive and complex. Setting up a single air quality monitoring station currently costs over 150 thousand dollars. The AirQo innovation uniquely combines a cost-effective low-cost air monitors and use of mobile objects such as boda-bodas for collecting air quality data. Boda-bodas in Kampala are re-known to reach almost everywhere thus providing more fine-grained spatial data than you can ever collect with traditional monitoring equipment.

So far, the team has collected over one million records of data about air quality in Kampala.   The team believes that system’s low cost will ensure a long-term sustainable deployment, with data provided to the population through mobile phones, websites and social media. “Our innovation allows citizens make informed decisions. Citizens can where to use the information to decide where live and the school to send children to,” said Associate Professor Engineer Bainomugisha. “Policy makers will be equipped with scientific evidence on the magnitude, scale and sources of air pollution so as to better manage, regulate and contain the problem” More project information available at www.airqo.net

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Charles Funa

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