Civic News

HabitatMap plans air sampling Brooklyn this spring, including noise pollution

School students around Brooklyn will begin taking ground-level air pollution measurements starting this spring, thanks to work by HabitatMap.

Four prototypes of the air monitor, with the latest, the AirBeam, in the background. Photo by Brady Dale.
A previous version of this story referred to the area of Newtown as "New Town." 4:37 pm 2/9/2014.

This spring, 10 to 12 student operators will be taking air samples using the latest prototype from HabitatMap.

The goal is to get five sampling devices out into the community by March 8, said Michael Heimbinder, the organization’s founder and director. The program is part of the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund that we wrote about earlier this month. The program will either run out of Sunset Park or around Newtown Creek.

The air samples will measure fine particulate matter. The dusts and pollution that are emitted in numerous ways in urban areas, notably by diesel engines. The latest prototype, the AirBeam, will limit itself to these particles, because, as Heimbinder explained, that’s the only kind of air pollutant that can be affordably and accurately measured, over time.

According to Heimbinder, other consumer air pollution sensing technologies on the market lack the contextual software to make sense of the data they collect and account for the necessary variables, or they become less and less accurate as time passes. He’s tested many of them and not found their data reliable enough.

The Knight Foundation support allows HabitatMap to work with Sonoma Technology, which develops the systems that run This partnership allows them to calibrate their units against the very best equipment. The connection between the two also enables scientists to get more fine tuned readings at the ground level, to complement the data coming from fixed government air sensors.

“We are very concerned about the quality of the data and being able to validate it against other instruments,” Heimbinder explained.

Though the group has made several prototypes, it hasn’t taken any of them to Kickstarter yet because Heimbinder wanted to make sure the device was ready. He hopes to have the AirBeam updated and live on Kickstarter by the prototype fund’s demo day, in June. The new unit will have an updated housing and a printed circuit board. The Kickstarter will offer fully assembled units and kits.

This summer, 10 units will be taking samples around the borough, run by a group of 20 students in Sunset Park. Heimbinder founded HabitatMap because he became interested in not only tracking the environmental footprint of individuals, but finding out where the infrastructure that enabled that footprint lived.

In New York City, much of it is in the border community between Brooklyn and Queens, Newtown Creek. So he founded an organization that helped groups and individuals track forms of pollution on a map, using mobile technology.

You can get started adding data into the HabitatMap system.

Download the AirCasting app from the Google Play Store and take noise pollution readings from your mobile device.

As other sensors are added, they all feed into the same app via Bluetooth.

“A lot of people talk about an environmental footprint,” he said, “but a footprint comes down somewhere.” Heimbinder is the sole full-time employee of HabitatMap, which is based in his Park Slope home office.

Companies: HabitatMap
Series: Brooklyn

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