The 3.5 billion mobile devices on the planet are seen by many in the computer science world as the world’s largest decentralized computer, capable of linking up trillions of pieces of data in an instant. Researcher’s at UCLA’s Center for Embedded Network Sensing (CENS) are taking advantage of this for the first time with the PEIR project.

PEIR (Personal Environmental Impact Reporting) links a cell phone device via GPS to real-time environmental data such as CO2, particulate matter, eroded land, etc. This allows a user, for instance, to view a record of pollutants in a given neighborhood or track their environmental impacts for a given trip -- both in terms of their own production of CO2 as well as their impacts from exposure to pollution.

PEIR is a M2M (many-to-many) system, so in addition to receiving data on your mobile, individuals are constantly creating data in the form of images and text. This means data can be mapped real-time by a large network of individuals (like a mobile wiki) creating both broad and deep data sets about the place you live in. Currently the platform maps 4 types of impacts - CO2, pollutant exposure, sensitive sites, and fast food. That last one seems a little out of place, but in fact McDonalds and Burger King make easy-to-identify targets, perfect for testing PEIR's collaborative mapping system.

PEIR, UCLAThis of course is just the beginning. PEIR is currently holding an open invitation to create new models and visualizations. One can imagine this technology applied to other environmental challenges -- water consumption, verification of carbon credits, and access to organic products. Similar to the iPhone apps, a whole universe of add-on programs are possible, all with the goal of helping us to better understand how we impact the environment and each other through our actions.

PEIR is a project of CENS, the Center for Environmental Network Sensing at UCLA, and the center has a big vision for their pilot project. As they describe it, "In the same way that the development of the Internet transformed our ability to communicate, the ever decreasing size and cost of computing components is setting the stage for detection, processing, and communication technology to be embedded throughout the physical world, thereby, fostering both a deeper understanding of the natural and built environment and, ultimately, enhancing our ability to design and control these complex systems."

The program has been in private beta since the summer, but it is now open to the public. Anyone can participate if they have a Nokia N95 (with GPS). Visit the PEIR website to sign up and start mapping.

Cell phones to map environmental pollutants
UCLA introduces Personal Environmental Impact Reporting