Pollution. Smog. Dirty air. It’s all around us. Sometimes, you can see the pollution hanging in the air. Pollution is a huge public health problem, especially in China. But how big is the problem? There’s no precise answer to that question. At least, not yet. A couple of amazing new inventions may just change that.

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round device attached to top of car

Many of the world’s most polluted cities are in China. It’s the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and in 2014, the country far exceeded the national standard for pollution suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO). It isn’t always easy to get accurate pollution ratings through standard methods employed by the Chinese government. Enter the Pollution Ranger. This little machine is a self-powered air quality monitor that can be placed on cars to collect data on air pollution everywhere it goes.

Related: How clean is your indoor air?

app screenshots showing pollution in cities

The Pollution Ranger is designed for full transparency of data. Anyone can use a smartphone app to access the data gathered by the device. You can use the information to check out pollution levels in your current location, or use the app to find data on a place you’re going to.

silver circle-shaped device with dark center

Want to know how much pollution is the air? Smog Shade makes it easier to visually see exactly how polluted the air around you is. This is an installation with a sleek, circular design that shows air quality in real-time. The shade darkens to indicate how much pollution is in the air; the darker the shade is, the more polluted the air is. The Smog Shade is accessible via app as well. The app allows users to view overall city pollution or pollution levels in specific locations all over the city.

close-up of bolts in circular frame

Both of these inventions were designed by Huachen Xin. Xin spoke about some of the applications for the gadgets, saying, “People have the right to know the genuine air quality [around them]…based on this data, they could choose whether they need to move in or out of where they currently live. City managers could also use the data as clues to find out realtime pollution, for example, or track illegal emissions during the night.”

circular smog tracker device near lake

According to Xin, the Chinese government doesn’t always offer precise pollution measurements. Sometimes, air quality monitors are purposefully put in areas where the air is cleaner. Monitors installed in parks, on rooftops and on islands in the middle of lakes aren’t getting accurate readings of city streets and neighborhoods.

circular smog tracker device near lake with center turning dark

One study published in Lancet estimated that as many as 1.24 million deaths in China in the year 2017 were caused by air pollution. That’s a huge public health risk, and that’s why accurate pollution monitoring matters. Putting pollution data in the hands of everyone could have another effect — it shows people the reality of pollution. Hard data and accurate numbers are pretty hard to ignore. Xin hopes that real-time pollution data will encourage people to change their daily habits and help work toward reducing pollution levels.

circular smog tracker device near lake with transparent center

If the first step to improving air quality is raising awareness of how bad the air actually is, then devices like the Pollution Ranger and Smog Shade are going to change the world … and not a moment too soon.

+ Huachen Xin

Images via Huachen Xin