Scientists have deployed sensors in Tasmania to keep track of local environmental conditions that exacerbate asthma, allergies and hayfever in the population.

Part of the broader Sense-T initiative, the AirRater research project captures information on temperature and air pollution (in the form of pollen, smoke, and some gases).

The project also includes the rollout of an AirRater smartphone app (downloadable here), which locals that suffer from environmentally triggered respiratory conditions are freely able to download.

The app allows residents to report their daily symptoms of asthma, allergies and hay fever.

Once they have done so, the data collected from the sensors in their immediate area is sent to the participants’ apps, providing information on the current levels of potential triggers that are causing their symptoms.

As data is collected over time, a personalised report showing environmental trends versus actual symptoms will be generated, which can then be used to provide alerts when adverse conditions exist or are forecast.

This will then allow people to better manage their conditions (for example, taking hay fever medication on a day expected to be high in environmental triggers).

“We wanted to build a Tasmania-wide sensor network to measure real-time spatially resolved air quality, pollen and weather,” University of Tasmania research fellow and project manager of the AirRater project, Dr Amanda Wheeler, told IoT Hub.

“The smartphone application allows us to gather crowd-sourced symptom data and correlate these with air quality, pollen and weather in the vicinity of the user.

“Once sufficient information has been collected, the symptom data will be interrogated using advanced statistical methods to determine trends and to create customised thresholds to provide individualised alerts for enrolled users.”

Dr Wheeler said the data collected will not only benefit the participants that use the app, but also agencies responsible for health and safety.

“We will enhance the existing automatic heatwave forecasting and alert system by supplementing the current atmospheric and meteorological measurements being made by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Tasmania and the Bureau of Meterology with the AirRater data,” she explained.

“The additional monitoring locations being installed by the AirRater research project will also enable enhanced coverage of the current fire weather and smoke forecast networks.”

Dr Wheeler said that finding suitable sensors to perform as required was a challenge for her project team.

“There are a lot of cheap instruments out there in the market, but the reality is that most of them are unable to detect air pollutants unless they are at levels equivalent to what is found in China or India,” she said.

“As such, we have had to invest in more expensive technology with better detection limits, and are currently evaluating a sensor with our collaborators at EPA Tasmania and CSIRO.”

Dr Wheeler said that the project is funded until December 2016, but she is hopeful that additional funding will extend the project past this date.

She is also keen to expand the use of the app to a national level, but “this will require significant investment in the current national monitoring infrastructure.”

Despite the challenges, Dr Wheeler is optimistic about the project and what it means for allergy sufferers - as well as what the wider Sense-T initiative means for Australia’s perception as a tech-savvy nation.

“Most people have, or know someone, with asthma or allergies and they are desperate to find ways to control their illness,” she said.

“This provides people with a simple tool to manage their health and services.

“Sense-T, with projects like AirRater, is also strengthening Tasmania’s high tech capabilities and is creating opportunities for Australia in the global market, by building skills and capability.”