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UCSD Scientists Rolling Out Air Pollution Monitoring Network

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Aired 12/4/09

UC San Diego computer scientists are creating a network of environmental sensors to help people avoid air pollution hot spots.

UC San Diego computer scientists are creating a network of environmental sensors to help people avoid air pollution hot spots.

Say you want to go for a run, but you don't want to run in polluted air that might aggravate your asthma.

UCSD computer scientists are working to roll out a wireless network in which hundreds or thousands of small environmental sensors carried by the public will relay air quality information back to central computers.

The computers analyze the air samples and send the information back out to individuals, public health agencies and San Diego at large.

It's called CitiSense.

UCSD Computer Science and Engineering Professor William Griswold says the system will provide up-to-the-minute information on outdoor and indoor air quality, based on environmental information collected by hundreds, and eventually thousands, of sensors attached to the backpacks, purses, jackets and board shorts of San Diegans going about daily life.

"San Diego County has 3.1 million residents, 4,000 square miles, and only five official EPA air quality monitors," said Griswold. "We know about the air quality in those exact spots but we know much less about the air quality in other places."

He says the goal is to give San Diegans up-to-the-minute environmental information about where they live, work and play-information that will empower anyone in the community to make healthier choices.

At the same time, the sensor-wearing public will have the option to also wear biological monitors that collect basic health information, such as heart rate.

Griswold says the combination of sensors will enable the team's medical team to run exacting health science research projects, such as investigating how particular environmental pollutants affect human health.

He says building a large-scale system that integrates sensors and other digital technologies into the physical world will require advances in a number of computer science areas including power management, privacy, security, artificial intelligence and software architecture.

"It is a tremendous challenge to integrate a number of technologies and then deploy them outside-in the wild," said Griswold.

Mobile phones and other handheld devices, for example, are traditionally designed to serve one person-the user. Including these electronics in advanced computing systems that have other priorities will require new power and workload management strategies.

Griswold said the three-year research project is in the early stages and there are several technical issues to resolve on the path to create such a network.

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