Visualizing the invisible

Air pollution is health hazard number 1 in public space but you can hardly see it. In some regions of the world statistics show that air pollution kills up to 9x more people in town than car accidents. One of the psychological curiosities of the human being is that when we can´t see something it does not seem to exist. At least, it does not enter our awareness and the rational of decision making. And even if we see air pollution we still go out for a jog because we have no idea of the effects of the stuff on our organism.  We perceive jogging as healthy but smog not necessarily as a killer, not even a discouragement to jog.

AiREAS first mission in Eindhoven was to `make visible the invisible` and make air quality part of our daily reality. The idea was to use the information for interpretation and stimulate civilian participation. We designed an innovative measurement system that shows us our exposure in nearly real time (every 10 minutes). Here you see a few visualizations:

A sudden peak on a windy and cloudy saterday got us to ponder about the origin of the pollution. It seems to come from traffic, starting at about 5am. On a saterday that raises eyebrows

Instand real time observation of the quality of the air with the Axians APP for mobile phones. The App became subject to studies of University students around persuasion

Special occasions such as the new year firework peak of air pollution which gets us to ask ourselves how we should celebrate our new year in the future

Helping civil services (s.a. fire brigade). Here we see the effects of a burning house. Our system detected the fire at 11 am showing also the dispersion of the smoke. 112 was only alarmed at 1pm through smoke detectors. It got us to ask ourselves what our responsibilities are now that we can see what we couldn´t before.

Since December 2013 we can see the invisible and notice since then a slow change in culture in town. People become more alert, start using the instruments to make daily decisions (for instance wheather to light the stove or not, go jogging, BBQ or pasta?), it is picked up education, the city council developed a `healthy city` policy under democratic pressure and recognizing the innovation chances, and new entrepreneurship develops.

In the past making the invisible visible for the public was seen politically as a threat for economic development. Now we have turned it around and show how it is an impuls for economic balancing of society (long term cost reduction on healthcare, reduce bureaucracy and related costs) and new economic impulses (productivity increase, local products and services development).

Persuasive communication and technology

During the evening lecture of the STIR Academy in Eindhoven the following issue was raised:

“How can we use technology to persuade citizens to contribute to a healthy city by reducing or avoiding air pollution?”

At the kernel of the presentations and discussion was the open data collected and offered by the near real time, fine maze air quality measurement system of AiREAS in Eindhoven. Four presentations followed by an open discussion on how to proceed. The college was conducted by Jean-Paul Close.

The first two presentations were made by students of the University of Technology of Eindhoven who had followed the minor of Prof. Jaap Ham on Persuasive Technologies. They had choozen to analyse the Axians App that had been produced by this AiREAS partner to help AiREAS analysts and partners to gain instant access to the data through their mobile phones. The App has an algorithm that uses colour codes that instantly alert when certain levels of pollution are exceeded. Here is demonstration of the App:

Both groups of students had analysed the existing App comparing the usage with the list of scientific requirements for persuasion published by researchers around the world, including Jaap Ham himself, who was present. The original design of the App had not been motivated by persuasion but by practical facilitation of a user interface for the data. Jean-Paul Close explained that thanks to the App various cases had been registered of air pollution events that are now subject for analysis. But the App was only used by people of the inner circle of AiREAS and had not been introduced yet to the large population of Eindhoven or Breda. How could we transform this?

The students had done a thorough job analysing the tool within 7 weeks

The students had done a thorough job analysing the tool within 7 weeks

A set of clear recommendations were presented. Some referred to the personalization of the App, for instance including a tracking of the position of the user in relation to the pollution. Other recommendations involved instant feedback on what the consequences would be for the person who is exposed to that level of pollution and tips on what one can do.

The overall conclusion was that the App as it stands has little persuasion for the large public as it simply informs of pollution levels and to some extend the exceeding of norms. The score on persuasion was low despite the usefullness of the App for the inner circle of AiREAS. With a set of modest modification the App could be significantly improved for more general use and multiply its score on persuasion. How to proceed?

During the follow up discussion interesting contributions were made. For instance that people relate to a problem when the feel they can actually do something about it. So referring to the traffic density maybe a good illustration to show where pollution comes from but may hardly persuades people to change behavior. Relating information to the casus collected could create a sellection that does revert directly to corrective choices, either actively in the field of personal choices in behavior (such as a BBQ go/no go decision) or passively through pollution avoidance (I take an alternative route). The question was also introduced how this App could become a highly desired tool? Lot of persuasive technology and science was discussed but no ideas had been proposed to involve the users. Who are they? Why would they want the App in the first place? Would they want to pay for it through Play Store for instance or should a sponsor (city council? private sponsor?) finance the roll out for usage free of charge? Is an App the right solution of should we provide an API for easy APP diversification in user groups? And even so, will people use it and why? Is there a reward? Is it sexy? Is healthy air a good enough motivator? It became clear that a business and psychological (market perception and persuasion) case would have to be built too, not just another App with more relevant things from scientific point of view, without practical users audience. Therefor experiments need to be further deveped with a market feedback loop to AiREAS analysts,entrepreneurs and the current and future student groups of persuasive technologies who can take on this analytical challenge too. Axians invited the students to their headquarters to help incorporate their views in the new development of App version 2. Jean-Paul Close offered the group help to build the business case using his 5K (5 market leadership keys for entrepreneurial excellence in 21st century) model and involving the two cities, Eindhoven and Breda from a commercial perspective.

Dynamic bicycle routes

The third presentation took a different approach. It uses the direct data from AiREAS at the source to define dynamically the mobility decisions of a person who wants to go from A to B in town, avoiding exposure to pollution.

Dynamic mobility avoiding air pollution

Dynamic mobility avoiding air pollution

The idea was well received by the audience because of the relevance to health and persuasion involved. The question became again what business case would back the idea and how would the users be involved? Who is the customer? Will it be a computer application or one on a mobile phone? Especially the idea that arrows, pointing into directions with different exposure levels seemed to appeal people in the audience.

Robert (the presentor of the idea) exposed the proposition to investors related to the Hackaton where his idea was born. He had decided to try to make this approach into an entrepreneurial case for himself. The investors had not responded to the development idea. The current group was much more enthousiastic. This gave two interesting feedback issues back to the group:

  1. The health and air quality resonance is stimulating new entrepreneurship. Robert was living proof.
  2. The type of entrepreneurship is different than the resonance with consumer capitalism. One has to find the right way to connect to the development market and find alternative funding. It is important to realize that the “old” world reasons in a different way to a commercial reality than the “new” world represented by AiREAS. Robert’s pioneering is much more than just a service proposition.

The way forward is multiple:

  • Prof. Jaap Ham involves students of persuasive technologies with Roberts idea to see what the outcome is of their research.
  • The business case has to be developed, based on the ideology of dynamic mobility alternatives through town motivated by air quality or pollution exposure.
  • Proof of Principle is included in the AiREAS POP that indeed new entrepreneurship arises as a spin off to healthy city resonance
  • Links are made with the fourth presentation that provides value enhancements to the idea of Robert.

Real time traffic and air pollution The Dutch institute for technology presents a prototype of a webbased application that takes real time traffic data and projects that on the real time air quality measurement fo AiREAS.

TNO presents a web based application of real time traffic and air quality

TNO presents a web based application of real time traffic and air quality

The question arose for whom this was made? Jan (the presentor) answered that it was an initiative of TNO itself to experiment with these insights and massive data processing for (semi) real time visualizations. The focus is on traffic as main pollutant. TNO is especially focussing on national and regional policy makers with the provision of quality tools. It was interesting to see how TNO is working with combined data streams for the public domain in parallel with the group of self employed data artists of aireas that focus on the private domain. AiREAS is an initiative that stimulates public/private interaction within the higher purpose of developing a healthy city together. Actions that arose from the presentation:

  • The backback project that AiREAS and TNO are doing together in June will bring relevance to the private/public analysis and interpretation of data combined with sources such as this webapplication.
  • It is strongly recommended to create a public/private workshop to see how the efforts can both serve policy makers and persuade citizens.
  • The entrepreneurial efforts of Robert (presentation 3) can interact with the ones of TNO. Clustering both initiatives has to be studied.
The audience was involved and inspired

The audience was involved and inspired

Conclusion The exercize was well received by all involved. There are so many alternatives that can be involved in the way forward that priority choices need to made with a sense of guts to experiment. We can eternally debate what would we best but if we have no interaction or feedback from the market the discussion will remain a technical one. The feedback loop is important. We have many initiatives that can receive citizen’s involvement. In the dynamics we will sure find the best practice in persuasion. Key is the understanding that the traditional citizen’s world is only now confronted with the visualization of the invisible. This new part of our reality is slowly reaching our consciousness. Every step will awaken people more developing a new market dynamics that is only accessible through determination and adaptability. There is no waiting for the “ideal situation”, this situation is created by ourselves by doing what we do and taking the lead in initiatives. The reciprocity can be felt already through the learning curve we go through. Jean-Paul rewarded all involved with human values driven AiREAS coin which gives every one present the possibility to attend another STIR Academy triple “i” (inspiration, innovation, implementation) session. He also urged all present to take responsibility themselves for the clustering with potential partners, as suggested in the outcome, not waiting for someone else to take the lead. To be continued…..