Mapping Party – sua bike vira sensor!

Together with BeMap, Woole, ITDP and various other partners, we transformed bicycles in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro into smart sensing devices to measure the air pollution. Through this international partnership between local Brazilian stakeholders and the Swiss research group from EPFL, BeMap, we empowered citizens to collect the data about air pollution that they are producing and exposed to. The devices developed by BeMap are based on the open-source principles, representing the idea that this technological instrument should be available for anyone to freely use, redistribute, modify and impact his/her environment.

What’s a Mapping Party

This project is based on a concept, which is called Mapping Party and first emerged within the OpenStreetMap-scene. It is a hands-on experience where data is collected and edited about the environment we live in, to encourage and help citizens to contribute to the cities’ shaping. The technological devices offered by BeMap enabled the participants to collect data about the levels of air pollution using their bicycles.

São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are two of the biggest cities in Latin America with various mobility and urban issues that directly influence people’s lives. As the number of people and cars in metropolitan areas increase, so does time lost in traffic. Quality of life and productivity in the city are largely driven by location and mobility concerns. Therefore the topic of urban mobility and pollution are of high interest to our urban areas worldwide.

As the number of active cyclists keeps constantly growing in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, so are the concerns about road safety and the impacts on health being steadily raised. On a worldwide scale we see that respiratory illnesses due to air pollution is the number one cause of infant mortality in cities. At the same time road traffic accidents represents the number one cause for fatal accidents in urban areas and the leading cause of death among young people around the world.

BeMap and Woole work on offering answers to these difficult questions. Woole is currently developing an app to offer safe and fast ways to cycle around in São Paulo, and BeMap with its device allows you to track per GPS your healthiest and cleanest way to travel by bike, measuring the air pollution.

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How we collected the data

Together with our partners and the local cyclists scene we used BeMap’s device to organize the first bottom-up data collection on pollution and to map the encountered pollution on Brazilian bike lanes. Our transportation policy partners selected various bike circuits spread out across the city to collect data on air pollution during the morning, lunchtime and evening, in order to be comparable. As we wanted to document the pollution that cyclists are exposed to, those circuits were whenever possible following the city’s bike lanes. The BeMap device works as a tracker storing data about the GPS coordinates, humidity, temperatures, and the values of CO (carbon monoxide) and NO (nitrogen oxides), which are correlated to pollution particle values. Additionally we were able to collect data on the quality of the bike lanes, using the devices’ accelerometer values that depict the frequency and intensity of vibrations, representing the road bumps.

To complement the qualitative data collected through the devices with relevant quantitative data, we developed a questionnaire to take the cyclists perception about these measured values into account. Due to the vast space of both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, those circuits were rather long and we couldn’t have been happier to count on the impressive support from the cyclists to collect this data!

What we did with the data

Using Design-Thinking in São Paulo as the cognitive activity that designers apply during the process of designing, we analyzed with various companies, institutes, NGO’s and cyclists the collected data to create new solutions.

With joint forces we concentrated first on how to formulate the right question for the improvement on the pollution levels and urban mobility to then think about innovative solutions for them.

In São Paulo, we had the great pleasure to present this innovative approach to Ciro Biderman, director at MobiLab, which is an open data laboratory about urban mobility that aims to move beyond the traditional way governments achieve solutions through technological innovation. As an essential aspect of MobiLab is to facilitate an open access to data for the society, we are thrilled to announce that the bottom-up approach of the Mapping Party as well as its data will be used for projects of urban intervention in São Paulo.

After that first success, we had the opportunity to gather similar movements in Rio de Janeiro for another Mapping Party. For instance, thanks to the amazing support received from the urban mobility side with ITDP, we were able to count on a local key stakeholder, especially for future initiatives.

Another one consisted of the Laboratório de Atividades do Amanhã (LAA), part of the brand-new Museu do Amanhã, where the entire event took place. The cyclist community strongly supported us through the lead of Transporte Ativo and Bike Anjo.

OHMS, our partner from the maker scene, particularly contributed in the ‘Innovators Lab’ session with LAA, where a 3D printer as one of many tools was used to further develop and improve the devices. Their future collaboration with BeMap is crucial for a successful implementation of the sensors and constant improvements according to the local conditions.

A major outcome for the urban mobility is the collaboration of BeMap with ITDP, who after successful air pollution measurements work on integrating the data into their internationally awarded project Ciclo Rotas Centro. The aim of this bottom-up innovation approach is to connect bicycle lanes in global centres such as Rio, New York or Guangzhou, just to mention a few. However, not through a politically implemented initiative, but coming from the civil society and cyclists who elaborate cyclists’ needs for such connections and create solutions with specialists.

Another milestone for us was the fact that we were the first in Rio de Janeiro to have measured the air pollution with sensors not only on the street level but on pedestrians carrying them. The promising “Walkability Index” which ITDP is planning for the city centre, could hopefully benefit from this data to increase its significance.

As a highlight of the event, BeMap managed to present the air pollution data measured in the downtown area of Rio de Janeiro in such an appealing way that it was integrated in the current exhibition “Capte-me” at LAA.

Soon after, BeMap had the chance to visit various potential partners and even participate at the “Resilient Cities – Smart Citizens” seminar.

Stephanie Tauber-Gomez and Sebastian Zumbühl, Junior Project Managers at swissnex Brazil