Two things drew me in. 1) Where I live in Storrington, we have a bit of a pollution problem. While it is a rural area, the village itself sits at a major crossroads and so sees heavy traffic coming from every direction every day. A study that was set up to monitor the pollution levels failed, because it relied on the local 3G network, which is another sticking point for Storrington residents. 2) The CleanSpace Tag uses a new technology called Freevolt, which I had heard about previously as a way to gather energy from out of thin air.
Conjuring energy from thin air
No really! Freevolt is able to harvest excess energy from WiFi and cellular networks. Now before anyone asks, no it doesn’t affect your WiFi or mobile phone reception. The amounts of energy we are talking about are minute and would otherwise have gone to waste anyway.
The CleanSpace Tag doesn’t need a lot of energy to keep going, so it is able to trickle charge its built in battery constantly. Which means you never have to plug it in, ever. It’s really clever stuff.
What does the CleanSpace Tag monitor?
The short answer is carbon monoxide (CO). The longer answer is, carbon monoxide, because you are able to fairly accurately track levels of other pollutants as they correlate closely with the levels of carbon monoxide. Which basically means, if you have a lot of one, then the chances are pretty high that you have a lot of the other. There is another reason of course and that is that carbon monoxide is a silent killer. It cannot be seen or smelt, but it can be lethal. So knowing when levels are high is not just nice to know, but potentially life saving!
How does it work?
When you first get your Tag you will need to install the CleanSpace app on your Android or iOS smartphone. Be sure to enable Bluetooth, as it will need that in order to synchronise with your Tag.
You can use the CleanSpace app without a CleanSpace Tag. Doing that allows you to record Green Miles, which are generated when you travel by foot, or by bicycle. You can also see a map of the pollution levels in the area. The app is free, so anyone can try it.
Obviously, when carrying your CleanSpace Tag it needs to be able to monitor the air around you. Putting it in your pocket is fine, but don’t think it will be able to do anything if you stick it inside a zipped up bag.
The Tag is slim and light, so you will hardly notice it when inside your pocket. You wouldn’t know I had one in my jacket pocket in the picture above if I hadn’t told you. Yes, for those astute movie goers reading this, that is Wolverine’s jacket!
The Tag periodically takes readings and sends them to your phone, as long as it is within Bluetooth range of course. The app then periodically sends the anonymised data to the folks at CleanSpace, so they can crowdsource real information about pollution levels around the country.
How does the app work?
Some apps have a loading screen and some do not. This one does and as loading screens go, it’s rather nice. It also doesn’t stay on screen for too long, which is a good thing!
Now moving on…
The main screen, as you may expect, gives you at a glance an overview of the pollution you have been exposed to. At the top is a simple toggle to turn tracking on and off. Tracking in this sense is not the information you may be collecting via your Tag, but Green Miles. Green Miles are basically any distance you have travelled on foot or by cycle. You will notice on the right of the screen is a Tagcorder section with a BOOST READINGS button. Normally the CleanSpage Tag only takes a few readings every so often (once per hour while stationary, but more frequently while moving with tracking switched on). Pressing the button increases the number of readings for the next five minutes to give you a much more accurate picture of the pollution around you.
Clicking on My Air from the main screen or from the hamburger menu, shows you the readings your Tag has been taking during the day. You can visit previous days using the back arrow at the bottom of the screen. Readings are colour coded with low, moderate and high.
Swiping your finger across the graph, you can see the exact values that have been recorded. You can see from the screenshot, the school run is a toxic occasion. I found trying to focus in on a particular reading really difficult and fiddly to do and that is my only niggle with the app. If you could zoom in, or there were buttons for cycling through the different data points, that would make it much easier to use. Regardless, it is still useful being able to see at a glance when the CO levels are a wee bit high.
From the My Air screen, you also have access to the Air Map. This gives you a real time estimate of pollution levels anywhere in the country (well, the world really, as CleanSpace isn’t limited to just the UK). Estimates are based on static detection stations around the country, but also information gathered by CleanSpace Tag users for more accuracy. Yes, London has a real problem. Clicking on the crosshair in the bottom right of the screen zooms in to your current location.
Clicking on My Journeys either from the main screen or the menu, displays an overview of the pollution you have experienced during travel, plus the journeys you have taken. You can view either the current day, the current week or an entire year with varying degrees of detail.
Clicking on a journey opens up a separate map screen, with a toggle so you can switch between viewing Green Miles and pollution levels.
Lastly, if you feel like finding out where you fit within the whole CleanSpace Movement, you can, because there is a screen for that too.
The Price Tag
To buy a CleanSpace Tag will cost you
£75 £49.99 (thanks to Martin Pugh for mentioning the price change). Now that may seem like a lot compared with other carbon monoxide monitors, but there are a few things to remember.
First of all it does a lot more than a simple carbon monoxide detector like the sort that you may have in your kitchen. Combined with the app, you get very detailed information on a personal level, which helps you make decisions about the way you travel and also where you travel. Some routes are simply more polluted, so avoiding them can improve your chances of a healthy life.
It never needs a new battery and is portable, so you can take it wherever you like. Again this is key in allowing the app to give you accurate data about the journeys you take and to help you make those important personal decisions regarding travel.
In the short time I have been using the CleanSpace Tag I have hardly used my car for journeys that I know are within walking distance. The app encourages you at every opportunity to think about the way you get from A to B. From displaying alerts when pollution levels get too high (very handy), to giving you Green Miles and assigning you a ranking within The Movement (there’s gamification for you), you will find yourself walking that extra mile, or cycling if you prefer. This isn’t only good for you, it is good for your pocket too. The result is that I have hardly had to refill my car and I know the Tag has therefore paid for itself several times over.