NodeMCU-Based ArduECO Aims to Track Global Air Quality Metrics Using Bike Sharing Fleets

Built for under $20 in parts and linked to AWS IoT Core, the ArduECO is designed to travel through cities via bike sharing networks.

A team of scientists from the University of Padua in Italy has suggested a means of vastly increasing the quantity and quality of air pollution data — by strapping low-cost Arduino-based sensors to bike sharing fleets.

"Air quality and the presence of tiny particular matter are crucial factors in human health, especially when considering urban scenarios. In this context, smart mobility coupled with low-cost sensors can create a distributed and sustainable platform for social sensing able to provide pervasive data to citizens and public administrations," the team explains of its work. "Sustainable and eco-aware decisions can then be supported by empirical evidence, resulting in an improved life and city administration.

"In this paper, we present ArduECO, a simple Arduino-based wireless device able of collecting air quality data. Without loss of generality, we have designed our device as a box that can be installed on a bike; in this way, beyond private bikes, municipalities could exploit their bike sharing fleets as pervasive sensing systems."

The ArduECO sensor is built around four core components: The NodeMCU ESP8266-based development board; a microSD card reader for local data caching; a GPS-based global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receiver for location data; and an MQ-7 carbon monoxide sensor, which the researchers note can easily be replaced with other sensors using the same pinout.

As well as capturing the air quality data locally, each ArduECO is designed to send its data to the cloud when a synchronisation button is pushed — transmitting its cached data to an MQTT server running on Amazon Web Services IoT Core. Putting server costs aside, the researchers say the sensor platform can be built in a bill of materials (BOM) of around €15 (around $18) — less, if built in bulk.

The team has already identified a range of improvements which could be made, including using an analogue to digital converter (ADC) to expand the number of sensors which can be connected at any one time; switching to other wireless connections aside from Wi-Fi, such as GSM or LoRa; and the creation of a 3D-printed housing for protection — and the possibility of replacing the prototype's external battery with a solar cell or dynamo.

The full paper is available under open-access terms on arXiv.org.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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