MIT will build out its system across Cambridge over the next two years and then deploy a larger network in Kuwait, which is helping to fund the project. That works because the system can be tuned to local needs: For example, Kuwait is not interested in the flu, but it does want to know about norovirus, Ghaeli said.
Smaller sensors and hyper-local data make a difference above ground, too. Aclima, a startup in San Francisco, sells hardware, software and services for testing air quality. Like the Underworlds team, it has downsized and localized the hardware needed to collect environmental data.
In 2010, Aclima rolled out an indoor test network at Google with 500 devices across 21 buildings around the world. Each has 12 sensors for things like carbon dioxide concentrations, said Kim Hunter, managing director of communications and engagement.
Aclima An Aclima indoor air-quality measurement module, upper right, can fit in an outstretched hand.
Since then, Aclima has ventured outdoors. Now Aclima sensing devices are attached to Google Street View vehicles in Denver as part of a pilot project. As the cars are driven around to take photos, they also collect information on substances like ozone, carbon monoxide, methane and particulate matter. This generates highly localized information from many sites. Aclima is also working with the Environmental Protection Agency and has commercial deployments of its indoor and outdoor equipment.
Aclima's sensors fit into devices that are much smaller than traditional air-quality gear. A typical stationary monitoring site is as big as a trailer and houses reference equipment that's two feet (60 centimeters) wide and as much as nine feet tall, Hunter said. Aclima's indoor sensor modules can fit in an outstretched hand, and its mobile platform fits in the back of a small hatchback car.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.