Project Turns Bicycle Couriers into IoT Nodes

In London, a delivery service is collaborating with technology companies to equip bicycle couriers with air-pollution sensors in order to understand the cyclists' exposure to harmful emissions.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

The couriers will also download a smartphone app provided by CleanSpace, which collects the sensor data and shows the rider, in real time, the level of air pollution to which he or she is being exposed, through a map that shows his or her location, along with a color code. Red indicates a high pollution level, yellow, a medium level, and green, low.

The app also stores the sensor data to show the rider historical exposure patterns, and uploads the sensor and location data to CleanSpace's cloud-based mapping platform, so that the data can be added to a crowdsourced map of London that provides aggregated pollution data from all CleanSpace tags. (CleanSpace has been selling the tags to London residents since last year and, on its website, says that it is working with local businesses to offer residents who run or walk instead of driving "clean miles" that they can redeem at select local businesses.)

However, Robert explains, the technology will not work as described above for many bike couriers, because they tend to turn their cellular service and/or GPS location tracking on and off throughout their workdays in order to conserve the battery life of their phones (which are their personal property, and not issued by Gophr). With its cellular service and/or GPS location tracking turned off, the phone can still collect CO sensor readings from the CleanSpace tag, but it can't track each reading's location, nor upload the sensor data in real time. So Gophr and CleanSpace are also working with Inmarsat, a provider of global mobile satellite communications services. Inmarsat, through a partnership with IoT platform provider Actility, has installed an IoT network in London based on the LoRa specification for long-range, low-power data transmissions. Inmarsat is providing the couriers with battery-powered LoRa tags, made by Abeeway, which transmit their latitude and longitude periodically to a LoRa access point located atop Inmarsat's London office.

Inmarsat will then send the timestamped geolocation data from a courier's Abeeway tag (linked to the courier to whom it is assigned through an identification number) to CleanSpace, which will marry it with the timestamped CO data collected from the that courier's CleanSpace tag, once the courier turns on his phone's cellular radio.

Robert says all 50 Gophr bike couriers are already carrying CleanSpace tags with them on their daily routes, and he will begin issuing the Abeeway location trackers next week, starting with one or two couriers, so that all of CleanSpace's partners can address any bugs. By the end of the summer, Robert hopes to have all 50 of his bike couriers carrying both tags.

A previous version of this story claimed that Gophr riders would begin carrying CleanSpace tags next week. In fact, they already carry them and will begin carrying the Abeeway tags next week. We regret the error.

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