Environmental sensors, iPhones, and Placebook / FourSquare

At a personal level we all want to remain healthy, and keep our kids healthy. We also want the environment in our citites to be as healthy as possible.

Genetics + Lifestyle + Environment = Risks

There is a lot of focus on two parts of the equation, genetics and lifestyle, and over the last few years technology has been providing us with more and more data to better understand the environmental risks for everyday people.

Continuous, geo-located monitoring

In the not too distant future that smartphone in your purse or pocket will record details on the quality of your personal environment, then share it with the rest of the world.

This post is inspired by Robert Scoble's interview below about an unfortunately named 'Placebook' that is the anti-Facebook of personal geo-location data - using a smartphone application, you will use Placebook to trace your every move and store it encrypted on their servers so that no one but you can access it. Once you have a growing set of geo-location data, Placebook can answer various questions about your lifestyle. Two examples from the video, simply using your speed data:

  • Carbon footprint - how much time you spend in a car or bus, how much time flying?
  • Health - how much time did you spend walking? Running? Riding a bike?

Health impact of location

This is a great start, but there is so much more information that could be collected and acted on. Bill Davenhall summarizes this well in his TED video:

  • Where you live: It impacts your health as much as diet and genes do, but it's not part of your medical records. At TEDMED, Bill Davenhall shows how overlooked government geo-data (from local heart-attack rates to toxic dumpsite info) can mesh with mobile GPS apps to keep doctors in the loop. Call it "geo-medicine."

So if our smartphone could collect more sophisticated environmental data, like sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and methane gas levels, we could have a personal map of our exposure to these chemicals and do something to avoid them, or reduce them in our day-to-day activities.

Here's an article with more details about this.

Network effect

Finally, the network effect kicks in. If we all shared this geo-located information we'd have an amazing view of trouble spots in our cities - maybe it would be healthier for me to walk my child to school the longer route through the neighbourhood to avoid the shortcut down a main road. If I'm considering buying two different houses, a pollution map might help me choose the cleaner neighbourhood.

With a bit of extra meta-data, we could use this group information to choose the airline with the cleanest air in the cabins, or shop in locations with the healthiest environment.

No doubt more benefits will turn up as we start collecting and analyzing this data!