News Column

Israeli entrepreneurs launch real-time air pollution monitoring app

June 25, 2014

Aiming to alert Israelis as to whether the air they are breathing is suitable for engaging in sports and other activities, a new free Android app is providing location-based air pollution levels through a real-time platform.

The newly released app, BreezoMeter, accesses data in real-time from 300 air pollution monitoring stations around the country and uses an algorithm to calculate the user's air pollution level at any given location. BreezoMeter was founded by three Technion graduates: environmental engineers Ran Korber and Ziv Lautman and software engineer Emil Fisher, after raising $200,000 of seed funding from the venture capital firms Jumpspeed and Entree Capital.

"Our goal for BreezoMeter is that people will check their air quality as they check the weather," said Lautman, who along with Korber is also a graduate of the accelerator program at SifTech: Jerusalem Entrepreneurship Center.

The director of the SifTech center estimated that for every dollar invested in the project would yield about $120 dollars for civil society, by reducing days of hospitalization, loss of workdays, medicines and other mechanisms to combat air pollution borne illnesses, according to the team members.

"Around the world, there are thousands of monitoring stations that measure air pollution in more than 90 countries including the US, European nations, Japan and China but most citizens lack access to this information and in most cases are not even aware of it," Lautman said.

In Israel, air pollution monitoring data is readily available on the Environmental Protection Ministry's website, though not precisely in real-time. Lautman and his co-founders therefore decided to harness the data being collected by both the ministry and Israel Meteorological Services stations, and channel it to citizens in a user-friendly form.

While they have started with just Israel and have only made the app available for Androids, they are working on an iPhone version and will next be developing a similar system for California, followed by other US states and other countries, Lautman told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

"I have to say that we see a wake-up call in the field," he said.

On Wednesday morning, based on this writer's location in Rehovot, the app's circular, green-to-yellow-to-orange-to-red air pollution indicator loop revealed by means of a pointer in the shape of an elephant trunk that air pollution levels were a barely green score of 62. The possible scores around the loop ranged from a positive rating of 100 down to -400, coinciding with government's official air pollution index figures.

Below these results also feature a map, painted in the color corresponding to the air pollution levels.

In addition to providing the real-time pollution score, the app instructs the user as to what physical activities are suitable in their current environment.

While athletics were permitted at this writer's borderline results of 62, the app suggested monitoring changes, as people breathe more air when they engage in sports. The app also indicated that the user could "go outside and enjoy, but because the air quality is decreasing, it is worthwhile to pay attention in the coming hours to changes in air quality."

Although the app identifies air pollution based on the user's GPS location, the user can also specify a different location.

Israel's air pollution index ranges from 100 to -400 and involves four colors, but these traits vary among indexes in different countries, Lautman explained. In the US, for example, the government's air pollution index has six different colors and China's has 10 different colors, he said.

"It was very important for us to be consistent and follow each country's regulations," Lautman added.

In order to pinpoint where an air pollution level falls along the 100 to -400 scale in Israel, programmers make use of an algorithm that takes into account the concentrations of a variety of pollutants, such as particulate matter 2.5, particulate matter 10, ozone molecules, nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxide.

"Then they determine the air quality by the worst pollutant," Lautman said.

The BreezoMeter team is currently in the process of developing forecast models, so that users will also be able to get a better idea of what their air pollution levels will be later, Lautman added.

Acknowledging that the app is still only in Beta form, Lautman said that he and his colleagues have been addressing certain complaints such as the app remaining running on certain Androids and hope to release their next version by the end of the week. Although the app is currently only available in Hebrew, he confirmed that an English version will also be released shortly.

As for now, however, Lautman said he is pleased with the interest the app has accrued. Google reports thus far have indicated that total downloads thus far are somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000, he added.

While this app is free of charge and will remain free, Lautman said that he and his colleagues are developing an air pollution-monitoring platform to sell to the makers of wearable smart devices. In addition, they are developing a purchasable real estate report, which aims to provide homebuyers with the air pollution history and current status of their future property, he said.

Clicking on the BreezoMeter app, the user is greeted with a bright and friendly icon, which features the very same elephant whose trunk points out the user's air pollution level.

Asked by the Post why the creators chose an elephant to be their mascot, Lautman responded, "We're trying to make pollution fun."

"Basically let's tell the truth air pollution is not fun," he said. "So we are trying to make it as fun as possible, and not scary."

All rights reserved

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: Jerusalem Post (Israel)

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters