Crowdfunding a Pollution Monitoring System for India

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Crowdfunding a Pollution Monitoring System for India

Thirteen of the world's 20 most-polluted cities are in India, according to the World Health Organisation, but detailed information on what India breathes is scarce. The National Air Quality Monitoring Index launched by PM Modi in consultation with IIT Kanpur in October 2014 highlights this paucity of data - the city of Bengaluru, for example, has only five polling stations, and it is the only city in the state to have this kind of equipment. Only ten states in India have pollution monitoring stations, and Delhi, the national capital, has only eight stations. There are currently less than 60 publicly available pollution monitoring data points in India, [based on data aggregated by AQICN.org.

In December 2015, Indiaspend, a non-profit launched its own network of low-cost sensors to measure the air quality in many Indian cities. It currently has 18 polling stations in Delhi, nine in Mumbai, three in Bengaluru, and two in Chennai.

This is a real problem because lack of air pollution data makes it difficult for the government to accurately plan and monitor a response to the pollution problem, and for people to determine which areas are safest to live in.

Pheonix Robotix, a startup from TIIR Cell, an NIT Rourkela-based incubator wants to build a network of over 150 pollution sensors in the Delhi NCR region, and has a crowdfunding target of Rs. 25 lakhs to get started - the project is accepting funds until March 15. Phoenix Robotix was one of the ten finalists at the Intel and DST Innovate for Digital India Challenge.

According to the company, the money raised from the crowdfunding project will be invested in manufacturing the "Aurassure Trust" device in order to create a financially self-sustaining pollution monitoring device network.

"We will use the major part of the funds for device fabrication, finalisation, installation, regular servicing and maintenance of the devices on the hardware front. In the software front, the funds will be used for app development and server costs. Part of this money will be used to create a website for network visualisation, a forum for discussion and and the development of Android mobile app for a personalised experience," says Amiya Kumar, co-founder of Pheonix Robotix, speaking to Gadgets 360 on the startup's plans for the air pollution sensor network that it wants to bring online by July 2015. "Monthly data packs need to be recharged for GPRS transmission from each of the devices. We will be spending the money in a monthly basis in order to store the data in the cloud," he adds.

Delhi and the NCR region will be getting 150 of these mid-range devices, explains Kumar, and the entire project, including installation would end up costing around Rs. 1 crore. Only a part of this initiative is being funded through the crowdfunding campaign, which Kumar describes as a social initiative, saying, "this [campaign] will help not only those individuals who are contributing, but also help each person in the city." The remaining funds will be generated through sales of the devices, Kumar believes, so that the hardware will be financially self-sustaining, and not rely on donations.

"We shall be installing one device every 10 square kilometre area in the NCR region. We aim to setup this network specifically in these locations in vital points like schools, hospitals, traffic posts, government buildings, malls and metros," Kumar says, outlining the future he hopes the network can occupy.

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According to him, anyone will be able to access the real time data on the app free of cost, but to access all the features in the app, they would have pay a subscription fee, though the specifics have to be worked out. People backing the project will get lifetime access to the app, but other subscribers will help to keep the project running and make it financially sustainable. "We are looking to integrate third-party data as well," Kumar says. Apps like Helpchat have started aggregating pollution data from third party sources, Pheonix Robotix will be providing APIs to use its data in other apps and websites.

"Even research institutes and government can download the acquired data. We are looking for collaborations with research institutes for better analysis and predictions," Kumar says.

"This solution can give common man a well aware and informed pictorial map of pollution density at street level," the pitch on the crowdfunding campaign reads. Such data can be useful for joggers and cyclists, who want to establish the best time and trails to exercise in, according to the company.

To accomplish this, Phoenix Robotix hopes to install its solar powered sensors in Delhi's most polluted areas at 10 square kilometre per unit, and 25 square kilometre per unit in less polluted areas. Based on research, these include Anand Vihar, Dhirpur, Punjabi Bagh, RK Puram, Delhi University, Dhaula Kuan Metro Station, areas near NH-8, NH-24, Shastri Park, Nirman Vihar, Kingsway Camp, Chittaranjan Park, Patel Nagar, Preet Vihar, Shakti Nagar, Paharganj, KG Marg and Lodhi Road. This network will provide detailed information about the pollution trends and its causes at the street level, says Kumar.

The Aurassure Trust device has been tested in lab conditions, and the startup is working to roll out a field tested model at the NIT Rourkela campus before the end of the crowdfunding campaign. "We will get certification for these devices in that course of time," says Kumar.

At this point, the Phoenix Robotix has a working prototype, and is creating a pilot project in Rourkela with five to seven devices. Counting the device's strong points, Kumar says that it will require no calibration and on-site visits, only rarely requiring servicing and maintenance. Once Pheonix Robotix completes its rollout in June, the plan is to install similar networks in Bengaluru, Chennai, Bombay, Pune, Lucknow, and Hyderabad - assuming it can raise the funds.

"If everything goes well then we can have all these cities in our network within the end of 2016," says Kumar, adding, "but it seems very difficult as we are a startup, we need tremendous support from different municipalities to make this happen as soon as possible." Of course, another concern that has to be added is that with work still very much in the prototype stage, Phoenix Robotix doesn't really know if the product will work as planned, or work without calibration or on-site visits.

By the end of 2016, Pheonix Robotix wants to manufacture three different air quality monitoring devices. The entry-level solution is meant for home use, and will be priced at around Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000, Kumar says. "The mid-range device, which is intended for community has an estimated price tag of Rs. 50,000, and the high end device, meant for small businesses and industries will cost around Rs. 7-10 lakh," says Kumar. These would help generate the funds needed to build out the air quality monitoring network, he adds.

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