City “Lights” the Way Regarding Air Quality

City “Lights” the Way Regarding Air Quality

If you stopped by Edmonton Tower during the month of August, you may have witnessed an interesting sight: an intricate light installation glowing a dark, ominous red.

What was that installation? Why was it that color? Last June, the City unveiled the Air Quality Light Bulb Tool, an innovative digital platform designed to monitor changes in the Edmonton’s air quality. Wi-Fi-enabled light bulbs within the installation change colour based real-time data from the Government of Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI). When the skies are clear and the air is “low risk,”  the light bulbs glow a pleasant blue. But in smoky months like August when the air is bad, the bulbs glow red, warning people to stay inside.

Air quality is an ongoing issue in Edmonton. Smoke from summer BC wildfires blows over provincial borders and makes it unpleasant–even hazardous–to go outside. This August alone, Environment Canada issued several air quality advisories for Alberta, and Edmonton hit a 10+ on the AQHI, the maximum level of risk. Low air quality can affect vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, and people with heart or lung conditions.

Because of this, the City of Edmonton wanted to give residents a way to easily know our current air quality. Our Digital Enablement team in our Open City and Technology Branch at the City of Edmonton was inspired by a project in Louisville, Kentucky, which used a web-based technology called If This, Then That (IFTTT) to allow residents to turn their Wi-Fi-enabled light bulbs into colour changing air monitors. IFTTT chains together events, so that one event will trigger another one; for instance if the air quality decreases then your light bulbs will change colour as well.

We partnered with Jan Mußenbrock, a local developer involved with BetaCityYEG, Edmonton’s civic tech meet-up, to use Louisville’s open-source code and bring the same idea to Edmonton. The most visible example is our downtown light bulb installation, designed by Dylan Toymaker, a local Edmonton artist. Toymaker specializes in community based lighting design, lantern art and light sculpture projects. His involvement helped to elevate a piece of useful tech and turn it into a beautiful piece of art. We launched the Air Quality Light Bulb installation at City Hall on Clean Air Day, but it has since been shifted between different Edmonton locations, and is currently residing in Clareview Community Recreation Centre.

However, the project doesn’t stop there; like in Kentucky, savvy City of Edmonton residents can now use IFTTT to receive email or text notifications about Edmonton’s air quality and create their own air quality light bulbs. Wherever you are, whether it’s in Edmonton proper or half way around the globe, you can easily stay up-to-date about the state of Edmontonian skies. Check out the instructions to the right of this article for more information on how to use this technology.

The Air Quality Light Bulb Tool is just one example of how the City of Edmonton uses emerging technologies to keep its residents stay safe, informed, and engaged. The sky really is the limit when it comes to ways that we can combine technology and government to create a better, smarter city.

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