How a bit of dust can cut pollution

TRAFFIC experts in the North East are working on a gem of an idea to help people dodge air pollution hotspots.

TRAFFIC experts in the North East are working on a gem of an idea to help people dodge air pollution hotspots.

The Transport Operations Research Group (Torg) at Newcastle University has developed “smart dust” technology which involves using tiny wireless sensors.

The group is now placing the sensors in jewellery which can be worn by people to tell them what levels of air pollution they are experiencing.

The sensors, which can also be fitted to mobile phones, relay information on pollution hotspots elsewhere which can then be avoided.

This is especially important for people with respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis, and other health conditions.

The low-cost sensors, housed in metal boxes, were attached to 40 lamp posts in Gateshead last November in a trial which is the first of its kind in the world.

The lamp post sensors communicate with each other, and the last one in the line reports real-time information on air pollution levels to an online database.

This can be combined with data from vehicle-counting systems at traffic lights to give a picture of both congestion and pollution.

It will allow traffic management strategies to be worked out to tackle both problems.

Hundreds of the sensors are now being installed in Newcastle.

The idea is that information from the sensors can be communicated to vehicles or individuals, allowing decisions to be made on avoiding bottlenecks or using other forms of transport.

The sensors collect data on carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and other pollutants, temperature, humidity and noise, enabling constantly updated, internet-accessible pollution maps to be compiled.

Torg’s Professor Phil Blythe said: “This is world-leading stuff which is about building intelligence into how we manage our road networks. The sensors we've deployed are small and low-cost. Other cities in the UK and around the world, such as New York and New Delhi, are interested in replicating what we are doing.”

The technology will be showcased at a major science event in London on March 4. The Pioneers 09 event will be the first time that real-time data from the network has gone on public display.

It is being held at the Olympia Conference Centre and is organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which chooses only 23 projects from the thousands it funds.

Newcastle University is currently working on £17m worth of traffic research.

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WORK by Newcastle University’s Torg group has shown that if people drive with more care they can cut fuel use and pollution levels by 20%.

“This includes less aggressive driving, anticipating when it is going to be necessary to slow down, not slamming brakes on and driving at as constant a speed as possible,” said Prof Phil Blythe.

Torg is working on a project called Footlite with the Institute of Advanced Motorists to see how changing driving styles, and driving in a more measured way, can benefit both drivers’ pockets and the environment.


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