Hardware, Software & the Internet of Things
June 23–25, 2015 • San Francisco, CA

Building PICKLE - a personal air pollution monitor for under $100

In the last few years, citizen science has become increasingly prevalent as we have become more aware of the impact of the environment on our health, and as sensors, cloud services, and open hardware have all become available to makers and hackers, companies and academia alike.

The air we breathe is as important for our well-being as the water we drink and the food we eat. When the air is polluted it impacts our immediate health and also has long-term effects, including causing asthma, heart disease, and even cancer. Ideally everyone should know their personal air quality, the quality of the approximately 3000 gallons of air we breathe every day. How close can we come to the ideal with the Internet of Things technologies available today? While there have been many attempts at air monitors, one of the main challenges that remains is making sense of the data, calibrating measurements so that they relate to data from standard instruments. Other challenges are cost and portability: can everyone aspire to have a personal air monitor built into their smartphones in five years ?

When Anirudh Uppal’s family moved to India for a few years, he experienced debilitating levels of air pollution approaching 1000 PM2.5 — the standard in the US is 15. This started his journey into air pollution measurement, where he found that the standard instruments provided by the government were few and hugely expensive. After many iterations Anirudh built the PICKLE. The PICKLE is a personal calibrated air pollution monitor using photoelectric sensors, embedded MCU based on the Arduino and SparkIO, and cloud services for time-series and calibration – TempoIQ and Plotly, and Techshop laser-cutting and 3D printing. The initial deployment for the PICKLE is being done in India. With a productized version of the PICKLE, ordinary citizens the world over should be able to assess their personal air quality.

The PICKLE is built on open software and hardware and is not one fixed design. Anirudh has experimented with modifying the sensor and calibration methods using an Arduino and Spark Core for data capture and TempoIQ for the time-series storage. Analytics is carried out using Plotly. He will demonstrate different versions of the PICKLE using a variety of sensors with different air flows and sensitivities. The enclosure is designed around acrylic laser-cut at the TechShop, and each monitor can be assembled and disassembled in minutes. Details of a previous version of the PICKLE and his experiments can be found at www.indiaairquality.com.

Anirudh is currently working with a group of students at Stanford University to extend the design and get to the eventual goal of a smartphone-based monitor with no external hardware.

He also wants to show that if a high school kid can put together an IOT device in 2015, his generation, which is the “i-generation,” will be able to assemble IOT systems using open software and open hardware in their own homes and garages.