Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

My Air, My Health: Developing a Personal Pollution Sensor

June 7th, 2012 / in big science, research horizons, resources / by Erwin Gianchandani

My Air, My Health: An HHS/EPS Challenge [image courtesy Innocentive].The U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — notably its Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) — together with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday launched a nationwide prize competition to develop personal air pollution and health sensors. In particular, the HHS and EPA are seeking to bring health and computing researchers together to develop highly portable sensors that can measure air quality data while monitoring a person’s physiological response to air pollution. Proposals are due by October 5 — and up to four finalists will receive $15,000 and be invited to develop their proposals into working prototypes, with the eventual winner receiving a $100,000 grand prize.

How do we connect personal devices for testing and reporting of both air quality and linked physiological data? Such a system would enable not only high-resolution mapping of pollutant concentrations, but also support research and reporting of individual physiological responses related to the pollutant.


[We] envision a future in which powerful, affordable, and portable sensors provide a rich awareness of environmental quality, moment-to-moment physiological changes, and long-term health outcomes. Health care will be connected to the whole environment, improving diagnosis, treatment, and prevention at all levels.

Successful solutions will require significant computing expertise, spanning sensors and monitors, mobile devices, and aspects of data collection, management, analysis, and visualization (details following the link…):

Environmental and public health are closely related and complementary fields — and closer understanding is needed of those connections. New, affordable, sensitive and portable sensors and monitors have the potential to transform the way we measure and interpret the influence of pollution on health. These technologies can provide a picture that is more detailed and more personal, with dramatic implications for health care, air quality oversight, and individuals’ control over their own environments and health.


Plans to develop personal devices are required — these must sensitively and frequently measure air quality, along with one or more physiological markers linked to the air quality metric that is measured. The system should be designed with input from a community or target population that would benefit from the solution. A design for a personal integrated system is required, together with a development plan and a proposal for a proof of concept study.


Designs and development plans are required for integrated sensor systems that will detect:


  • Air pollutants — Particulates or individual chemical species
  • Physiological markers — Health metrics with a citation-supported link to the proposed air pollutants to be measured


The system should also enable transmission of these data, together with time and location stamps, to a central resource. Existing communication architecture and transmission devices (e.g. cellular handsets and networks) should be used to transmit data.

The Challenge is structured in two phases, with the first requiring a 15-page written project plan, and the second a proof-of-concept pilot:

Phase 1 — Project Plan (no more than 15 pages, not including appendices that may consist of diagrams/schematics, bibliography, and other supplementary materials):


  1. Propose a plausible link between health outcomes and airborne pollutants (chemical species and/or particulates), and provide evidence to support a plausible and physiologically meaningful relationship between airborne pollutants and physiological metrics in a defined population.
  2. Propose a prototype design and development plan for an integrated multi-sensor and data management system that may be easily worn or carried by individuals within the defined target community/population.
  3. Conceptualize data generation, management (may include processing & on-board storage), and transmission functionality of the device.
  4. Propose a small-scale proof-of-concept study to validate the proposed prototype.
  5. Study design process must include input from the target community/population.


Phase 2 — Proof-of-Concept Pilot Project


  1. Finalists attend an event for feedback, questions, and business/entrepreneurial resources prepared by Challenge sponsors (HHS, ONC, NIEHS, EPA).
  2. Finalists develop the proposed prototype and execute experimental validation of the system to bring together data from personal air quality and physiological monitors, showing how these types of data and sensors can be integrated for practical use by health and environmental agencies, and by individual citizens. Proof-of-concept data must illustrate the accuracy and precision of the raw data and of any processed data produced by the system.

To learn more and get involved, check out the Challenge website.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)

My Air, My Health: Developing a Personal Pollution Sensor