Using Raspberry Pi to Monitor the Environment

Many cities in the world are plagued with poor quality of air caused mostly by pollution form old diesel cars. This is true of Peru also, and James Puderer is using Raspberry Pis (RBPis) fitted in several taxis to monitor the air quality. James fitted the RBPis in the hollow vinyl roof sign almost all taxicabs use in Peru.

James uses the RBPi along with various Adafruit technologies, such as the BME280 sensor for temperature, humidity, and pressure. He has created a retrofit setup powered by a battery and GPS antenna that fits snugly into the hollow of the vinyl sign.

The completed air-quality monitor collects data on latitude, longitude, pressure, temperature, humidity, and airborne particle count. The data enters a data logger, which then pushes it on to the Google IoT Core, from where any computer may access it remotely.

At the Google IoT Core, Google Dataflow processes the data and turns it into a BigQuery table. Any user can then visualize the measurements the monitor collects, using several online tools available to study them and organize to figures depending on the results he or she expects to achieve. For instance, James uses Google Maps to analyze the data and produce a heat map of the local area that includes air quality.

On his project page, James provides the complete build process for the air quality monitor using the RBPi. This includes the technical ingredients and the code he developed. He also urges others to make their own air quality monitors for their local environment. His plans include designing an additional 12 V power hookup, which will enable connecting the air quality monitor to the battery of the vehicle. He also plans to include functioning lights when the air quality monitor is inside the sign, and companion apps for the drivers to use.

Others have also used the RBPi with sensors to track the world around it. This includes the Human Sensor costume series by Kasia Kolga. The dresses react to the air pollution by lighting up. Kasia created the Human Sensor in collaboration with Professor Frank Kelly and other environmental scientists at the King’s College, London.

Linked to an RBPi and a GPS watch, a small aerosol monitor is hidden within each suit of the Human Sensor costumes. These components work together and gather the pollution data at their location. Although the suits store their collected information to submit it later, in future the suits will be relaying the data in real time to a website for the public to access.

The RBPi works to control the LEDs attached to the suit. In reaction to the air conditions detected by the monitor, the RBPi flashes the LEDs, makes them pulse, or produce patterns and colors that morph accordingly.

Depending on the negative or positive effect of the air around the monitor, the suit’s LED system responds to the absence or presence of pollutant particles. For instance, when the wearer walks past a grassy clearing in a local park, the suit will glow in green colors to match it. As soon as the wearer goes behind the exhaust fumes of a car, the suit will pulsate with red light.