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Intelligent citizen sensors for better breathing

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Intelligent sensors are now emerging from the laboratories of major companies and universities to be disseminated in society, finding their uses in citizen projects, such as the network Citizen Sensors.

In September 2012, the Institut de veille sanitaire published the survey "The Health Watch Institute". APHEKOM "on the effects of urban air pollution. In the cities studied, the values of particulate matter and ozone are higher than the values recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), leading to a reduction in life expectancy of 3.6 to 7.5 months.

A simple respect of these values would allow an economic benefit estimated at nearly 5 billion a year.

Air pollution is largely "invisible". In the 15 cubic metres of air breathed in by an adult every day, there is a concentration of health hazards that are mostly not seen or smelled. To get out of this vicious circle of threatening invisibility and impalpable fear, a group of engineers and sociologists, brought together within the association Labo Citoyen, launched nearly a year ago, a research and action program, Citoyens Capteurs, around the issue of urban pollution.

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In the wake of the actions carried out by a network of Japanese citizens in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, and in favour of the development of open measurement technologies (open hardware) by techy savvy, (i.e. science and technology professionals acting in the service of civil society and sometimes erroneously called "geeks" or "amateurs"), Citizen Sensors are working to deploy a social movement of site-based pollution measurements where everyone lives and breathes.

This project involves equipping the inhabitants of the territories to enable them to produce by themselves and on their own scale a more transparent knowledge of pollution. The communicating devices for capturing and measuring atmospheric pollution invented within this framework aim to propose innovative solutions that are accessible to the greatest number of people in order to produce localised knowledge that is part of a collective environmental intelligence.

The issue of open production and sharing of pollution data (opendata) from a network of citizen sensors, which are both complementary and commensurable in terms of their measurement quality with the overall rates of certified organisations analysing air quality, ultimately raises questions of citizenship.

The technical capacity to generate site-specific pollution measures enables citizens, associations, companies and public authorities to be involved in a pact of factual responsibility. Thus, questions of environmental justice can be raised on the basis of knowledge of the environment by citizens who are the watchdogs, alerters and interpreters of the environment through such pollution measurement and data sharing systems.

Article by Laurence Allard, lecturer, sociologist of innovation, University Lille/IRCAV-Paris 3; Olivier Blondeau, doctor in political sociology (Sciences Po Paris/CEVIPOF); and Gabriel Dulac-Arnold, engineer, doctoral student in artificial intelligence, University Paris 6- LIP6-UPMC. Published in Let's build a smarter planet - November 2012

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