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A New Device allows Bicyclists to Monitor Exposure to Air Pollutants
A New Device allows Bicyclists to Monitor Exposure to Air Pollutants


Alex Bigazzi, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and semifinalist in the 2014 Clean Tech Challenge wants to introduce Portland’s cyclists to a new innovation that will allow them to monitor their exposure to harmful air pollutants while riding around town.

Despite the fact that many of Portland’s bike routes direct riders down streets with little automotive traffic, riders are exposed to air pollutants from automobile at busy intersection, bridge crossings, and in downtown where commuters using various modes of transportation commingle.

Called SPEC (Sensing Pollution Exposure by Community), Bigazzi’s device is a portable, affordable, networked multi-sensor machine that records levels of certain air pollutants and collects data on meteorological conditions, location and duration of trips, and physiological (heart and respiratory rates) and employs a smartphone application to analyze, manage, and store the aggregate data.

According to Bigazzi, SPEC preforms tasks no other low-cost device on the market currently does. With SPEC, cyclists, walkers, and runners can map in real-time levels of air pollutants emanating from motor vehicles on routes they take to get around and quantify their intake of pollutants by combining data from the device’s several sensors.

“Having worked on a study with Drs. James Pankow and Miguel Figliozzi evaluating bicyclists’ exposure to air pollution in traffic,” said Bigazzi, “I came to appreciate the challenges in measuring air pollutants and the need for a low-cost device cyclists and pedestrians could use to monitor their exposure to pollutants.”

Bigazzi’s first prototype was built with the support of Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science’s Innovation Program. He was able to test that device against data gathered in the study he was participating in with Drs. Pankow and Figliozzi. Encouraged by his findings, he entered the Clean Tech Challenge, cleared the first round of presenters and received $2,500 to build a second prototype that will be on exhibit at Oregon BEST FEST in September.

In the future, this device could provide travelers who use active modes of transportation such as biking and walking with the information they need to maximize the health benefits of their transportation choices. According to Bigazzi, SPEC would also be used by researchers and urban planners as a low cost method of gathering data supplemental to that collected by more expensive, specialized, and high-tech devices. 


Authored by: Shaun K McGillis
Posted September 5, 2014