New air quality tracker coming to Edmonton city hall

A light will be installed inside city hall this summer to let people know how good or bad Edmonton’s air quality is every five minutes.

The light installation will change colours depending on Alberta's Air Quality Health Index

The Air de Paris balloon changes colour based on air quality. It was the inspiration for Edmonton's upcoming light installation which will be inside city hall. (Wikimedia Commons)

The city will soon be using a new way to track air quality.

A light will be installed inside city hall this summer to let people know how good or bad Edmonton's air quality is.

The five-foot tall paper lantern will change colours depending on the province's Air Quality Health Index, which is measured on a scale of one to 10.

For example, if air quality is 9 or "high risk" in Edmonton, the light in the lantern might turn red. But if the air is at "low risk," the lantern could turn green.

The air quality indicator is updated every five minutes.

Project members were inspired by a similar light in Paris and how it informs people about air quality with a simple colour change.

"For people who actually suffer from asthma or lung diseases, this would be informative. A lot of people walk through and past Churchill Square and I don't think most people are aware that air quality can be variable," said David Rauch of Edmonton's Smart City strategy.

The lantern's light bulbs change colours by connecting to Wi-Fi and accessing the province's air quality data, thanks to an online program called If This Then That (IFTTT).  According to Rauch, IFTTT allows the lightbulbs to "talk" with the online data and change colours accordingly.

City officials say the project is the start of a shift toward using open data.

The city is partnering with Jasper Place High School to also allow students to use Wi-Fi-connected light bulbs in the classroom.

"The reason that we're doing this is to raise awareness about air quality in Edmonton and to make digital information, numbers you see on a screen, a physical reminder that these things are happening," he said.

Edmonton has been recognized nationally for its open data catalogue, with data sets added or updated each week. Rauch said the light installation is just another step toward getting people involved in tech projects.

"We're using connected technology for a quick sprint project and this is an approach that I'd like to see replicated. This is what we're trying to do with all of these Smart City projects," he said.

The colour-changing light will be installed in city hall on June 6 as part of Clean Air Day and will remain as a permanent fixture.