Backpacks to Track It

First little birds. Now, little kids.

Regular readers of this blog—and who isn’t? —will remember an item about an experiment in the UK involving pigeons outfitted with portable pollution counters, in order to get a better read on the various pollution levels in London. The thinking: by strapping a device to something incredibly mobile, researchers would get a more accurate read on where the city stood, air-wise.

Now, the same thing is happening across the pond. Sort of.

Elementary school kids in Fort Collins, Colorado are aiding Colorado State University researchers by tracking air quality levels as it relates to asthma sufferers. Twenty-five children were decked out in backpacks featuring electronic monitors that gauge pollution levels. These fourth- and fifth-graders were then told to use the backpacks as they normally would, walking to school, lugging homework, taking them on playdates. The monitors collected data across wide swaths of area as well as micro-environments like bedrooms and dens, giving researchers huge amounts of data that could aid in determining pollution hotspots as well as asthma triggers.

While this effort will help researchers collect data, it also is a test run of sorts for the widespread manufacture of wearables that gather information. The children will be quizzed on the viability of wearing monitors—are they too noisy, too heavy, too boxy, et al—and will also have a hand in providing feedback about upgrading the devices.

As part of an ongoing effort, the test will be expanded to polluted areas in California and among workers in dusty environments, outfitting participants with monitors.