Navigating the urban environment, smartly

By John Sullivan
January 10, 2018

This article is from the Winter 2018 EQuad News.

Elie Bou-Zeid’s research team has planted environmental sensors around Baltimore and New Jersey and built models to forecast shifting winds in towns and cities. Now, he wants to put that information at the fingertips of smartphone users.

“We made an environmental app for smart- phones,” said Bou-Zeid, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It lets citizens navigate and potentially collect environmental data for their cities.”

The app, called NUE for Navigating Urban Environments, is designed to turn a smart- phone into an environmental navigator. The user points a camera along a street in a participating city, and the app reports the air temperature, local humidity, and air quality for roughly half a kilometer (about four intersections in Manhattan). When fully developed, the app will allow a multitude of cameras to augment and analyze this information.

The NUE mobile phone app puts environmental data at users’ fingertips and could ultimately help urban plannersThe app builds on Bou-Zeid’s fundamental research into atmospheric flow and heat transfer in local areas, particularly around cities. Bou-Zeid’s team developed autonomous sensor boxes that can be attached to vehicles (recently deployed on buses in Seoul, South Korea). The app taps into that sensor data along with other openly available environ- mental data. Bou-Zeid and postdoctoral researcher Maider Llaguno Munitxa, a co- investigator on the project, think that making these data easily accessible to people is the critical part of the project.

“We want to make citizens aware of the environment in their cities,” Bou-Zeid said. “If you engage the citizens, if they care about the environment in the city, that has a value in itself.”