Featured image above: Plume Labs use pigeons to monitor air quality in London. Credit: Plume Labs
Optimising highway networks, mapping crime hotspots and producing virtual reality sporting experiences based on real-life games: these are just a few of the exciting outcomes that new businesses are now achieving with complex data analysis. More and more startups are using readily available data to create products and services that are game changers for their industries.
Big data, for example, is what lies behind Uber’s huge success as a taxi alternative; the company optimises processes by using data analysis to predict peak times, journey time and likely destinations of passengers. Many other companies are now using data to produce technology-based solutions for a range of issues and even designing new ways to collect data.
A weather station and umbrella all in one
Wezzoo, a Paris-based start-up company, has designed a smart umbrella that tells users when it’s going to rain. The ‘oombrella’, as it’s been dubbed, is strikingly iridescent, sturdy in design, and presents a data-based solution to staying dry. It will send a notification to a smart phone 15 minutes before predicted rain and also send a reminder when it’s been left behind on a rainy day.
The oombrella itself is also a mobile weather station, able to detect temperature, atmospheric pressure, light and humidity. “Each oombrella will collect data and share it with the community to make hyperlocal weather data more accurate,” says the company.
Real-time meteorological information from each oombrella is uploaded to Wezzoo’s existing social weather service app. More than 200,000 people already use the app and upload their own weather reports from all over the world, creating a more interactive and collaborative approach to weather observation. This data, as well as information from weather stations is used to create personalised predictions for oombrella users.
‘Pigeon Air Patrol’ monitors pollution
Plume Labs, in collaboration with DigitasLBi and Twitter UK, have literally taken to the skies with their latest air pollution monitoring project, Pigeon Air Patrol. They recently strapped lightweight air-quality sensors to the backs of 10 London-based pigeons to gather data on pollution in the city’s skies. For the duration of the project, the public could tweet their location to @PigeonAir and receive a live update on levels of nitrogen dioxide and ozone, the main harmful gases in urban areas. Not only did this innovative project help collect data in new ways, it raised awareness of air pollution in large cities.
“Air pollution is a massive environmental health issue, killing nearly 10,000 people every year in London alone,” says Romain Lacombe, Plume Labs’ CEO.
“Air pollution is an invisible enemy, but we can fight back: actionable information helps limit our exposure, improve our health and well-being, and make our cities breathable.”
Plume’s core focus is tracking and forecasting ambient pollution levels to allow city dwellers to minimise harmful exposure to polluted air. Their free phone app – the Plume Air Report – uses data from environmental monitoring agencies and public authorities to provide individuals with real-time information on air pollution safety levels at their locations. With the use of environmental Artificial Intelligence, the app predicts air pollutant levels for 300 cities and 40 countries with double the accuracy of traditional forecasting methods. “Predictive technologies will help us take back control of our environment,” Lacombe says.
The company, whilst still small, has managed to raise seed funding from French banks. It plans to build a business based on aggregating data, though is also open to developing hardware.
Innovative data collection methods are not only good for science, it seems; they can also be a strong foundation for business.