Although Europe’s air quality has improved over the last 25 years, pollution is still prominent – particularly in cities. Cleaning the air is more difficult than before, as most people can no longer smell or see the pollution. However, the European Union (EU)-funded research project CITI-SENSE is harnessing novel technologies to detect contaminated air and share the data in real- time.

The goal of the CITI-SENSE project is to give citizens the tools to ‘sense’ their environment through new devices, such as smartphones, raising awareness of areas where pollution exists. The project could allow people to assess progress and take action to improve the situation, effectively displaying the positive impact a healthy environment has on the quality of life.

Alena Bartonova is senior scientist at NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Research and project coordinator of CITI-SENSE. According to Bartonova, the project is inspiring people to relate to their natural environment in a systematic and scientifically defendable way. “It will motivate us all to become active stewards for a good environment,” she says. “We have initiated a dialogue between the technical, scientific and social aspects of environmental information, production, and use.”

A key aspect of CITI-SENSE is the development of ‘citizen’s observatories’ used to empower local people to contribute to environmental governance. This will give them and other project stakeholders like schools, NGOs and local authorities a forum to exchange results as well as to discuss and receive additional information on related issues.

The project team is working with businesses involved in technology in order to cover the development of sensors for air quality, platforms for sensor deployment, communication solutions between the sensors and other systems, as well as data collection tools related to smartphones. The CITI-SENSE team has already developed a number of prototypes that use monitoring and information technologies, data interpretation and information content. Moreover, the researchers are developing methods on how to support the engagement and participation of local users with the help of these technologies.

There are nine cities taking part in the CITI-SENSE project: Barcelona (Spain), Belgrade (Serbia), Edinburgh (UK), Haifa (Israel), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Oslo (Norway), Vienna (Austria), Ostrava-Bartovice (Czech Republic) and Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain). Bartonova points out that “each location has different needs, which requires the development and testing of somewhat different technologies and approaches.”

In many participating cities, the CITI-SENSE team builds on previous engagement with selected stakeholder communities: bicyclists, members of groups representing patients, NGOs and city planners. One area that has generated a strong response is indoor environments at schools in Norway: CITI-SENSE researchers gave students, parents, cleaning personnel, teachers, and the school administration information to use for decisions on school maintenance and occupant behaviour that could improve the indoor environment. Another initiative was carried out in Barcelona, where cyclists were provided with data about pollution based on the city’s measurements, which helped them choose alternative routes with cleaner air.

Bartonova says “the project is a unique combination of science, technology and citizens’ actions.” “For citizens, we are seeking ways to enable their efficient participation in local governance. For authorities, we are finding new and effective ways to provide them with information for their decision-making and new ways to communicate with citizens. And for science, we are defining new ways to process environmental data which could enable the global community to provide relevant and high quality information about our common environment,” concludes Bartonova.

This innovation was made possible by Israel’s continued participation in the official Horizon 2020 fund, managed in Israel by ISERD part of The Israel Innovation Authority (Formerly the Office of the Chief Scientist and MATIMOP). The initiative has taken Israeli R&D to the next level with the help of ground-breaking collaboration between scientists in Israel and Europe, as well as essential funding and support.

Project details
Project acronym: CITI-SENSE
Participants: Norway (Coordinator), Nethrlands, Israel, Czech Republic, Spain, Australia, UK, Austria, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia, South Korea
Proj. N° 308524
Total costs: € 12 610 116
EU contribution: € 8 968 282
Duration: October 2012 – September 2016