In order to keep tabs on air pollution, authorities in cities around the world have set up a network of air pollution monitoring stations, with information on how good or poor air quality is — in a specific location. But what about the pollution level on the next street — or on your own street? Studies have shown that pollution levels can vary significantly between locations, even just a few meters away from the monitoring station. Is there a way to get an accurate pollution reading at locations away from stations?
The answer is yes, said Israeli entrepreneur Ran Korber, who along with partner Ziv Lautman is the developer of Breezometer. The app, he says, can supply accurate information on pollution levels anywhere — first in Israel, and later on around the world, as new cities and countries are added to the area that Breezometer operates in. “Our algorithms take information from pollution stations and extrapolate it, based on wind direction, speed, and other factors to give an accurate reading of pollution levels even far away from a station.”
While it might be interesting to pinpoint pollution data, Breezometer was not developed to satisfy the curiosity of urban dwellers. “We actually developed it in order figure out where the safest place would be for my pregnant wife,” on the theory that high pollution levels could cause physical or mental damage in fetuses or infants, said Korber.
“Many studies have shown that high levels of pollution can cause damage in infants, and with Breezometer families can check if pollution levels are consistently high in a specific location before they rent or buy a home there.” For most people, said Korber, pollution is something “out there,” a big issue that seems too big for them to try to fix, whether by pressuring government or the polluters themselves. By seeing just how bad the air they themselves are breathing really is, Korber added, more people may take up the gauntlet and demand action to cut down on air pollution.
In Israel, pollution monitoring stations have been installed throughout the country by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Breezometer looks at your location and determines where the closest stations are in order to make its calculations; for example, the app may take data from three or four nearby stations. Breezometer’s algorithms check the information and match it up with weather data (also supplied by the stations), including temperature, wind information, time of day, position of the sun — all factors that can affect the pollution level. The app then delivers a localized pollution reading — which, says Korber, “is 99% accurate.”
Breezometer has been in private beta for the past several months, but is now public and available for free for Android users (iOS version on the way, said Korber). “We see our technology being used as an app, or being integrated into wearable health devices, which are now becoming very popular,” said Korber. Any device or app, such as those aimed at runners or other athletes, could be outfitted with Breezometer’s technology, Korber added.
Breezometer has gotten several angel investments, said Korber, and has participated in and won several technology contests in Israel, including one held last November at the Technion. Going forward, Korber expects the basic Breezometer app to remain free, with additional capabilities available for a small fee; in addition, he expects to be able to partner with companies like real estate firms, health organizations, etc.
“There are 90 countries around the world with air monitoring stations located in big cities,” said Korber. “We hope to be able to serve all of them eventually. Our first foray out of Israel will be in California, where we have already arranged for the service to be available in several cities. This could be an important app for many people — pregnant women, families with little kids, the elderly,” said Korber. “When pollution hits home, right outside their window, people tend to become a lot more concerned about it, and they contact authorities demanding change. To us, this is a lot more than an app — it’s a vehicle for real change.”