My Air My Health

My Air, My Health Challenge Winner Announced!

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Today, EPA and the National Institutes of Health announced the winner of the My Air, My Health Challenge. The Challenge called upon innovators nationwide to design a small, low-cost sensor that integrates air quality measurements with related health data, such as heart rate and breathing.

From a collection of proposals, four finalists were selected in November 2012 to move to the second phase of the competition that involved the development of working prototypes. Three finalists successfully designed prototypes, and the winner was announced this morning at Health Datapalooza IV.

Check out the press release or the @EPAresearch Twitter feed using #MyAir. Please also share any thoughts or comments you have in the comments section below.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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My Air, My Health, My Future

The best innovations rely on disruption, a catalyst for change in a world of status quo.

Disruptive innovation is the theory behind the My Air, My Health Challenge, sponsored by EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The challenge encouraged Americans to consider the future of air quality and human health by developing small, wearable air quality sensors that also detect how our bodies respond to the air we breathe.

Two major ideas drive the effort to combine air sensor technologies and health data. First, sensors mirror the rise of computers and smartphones – more power in less space at lower prices. Second, the air we breathe affects our health, but that data changes constantly as we move.

All four finalist teams in the challenge received $15,000, and the teams continue to transform their designs into portable sensor systems that measure air quality and corresponding physiological responses to that air quality.

Below, leaders of the four teams talk about how they’re pursuing the priorities of sensor portability, data accuracy, and low cost for the final design.

  • Aaron Hechmer and his team chose to focus their challenge efforts on the aspects of air sensor data and cost.  “This project, it really is sharing health information. To make [sensors] statistically robust, they’ve got to be in a lot of hands. To be in a lot of hands they’ve got to be cheap, particularly if you’re trying to serve communities. People don’t want to pay $5,000.”
  • Michael Heimbinder leads a team designing an air sensor that measures fine particulate matter and carbon monoxide. The team uses a chest strap sensor to look for connections between air pollutant exposure and heart rate variability, the interval between heart beats.  The team completed a first prototype air monitor and will build five more for volunteers to wear and collect data. Heimbinder says the next hurdle is visualizing the data by “displaying thousands and thousands of measurement points as dots on a map.”
  • Guy Shechter and his team view the long-term scientific prospects of the challenge. The team’s sensor will tease out links between ultrafine particulate pollution and obstructive respiratory diseases such as COPD and asthma. “The exciting thing for us is this lack of science in this area and our belief that with the technology we have, with the scientific minds we have thinking about this, that we can actually do something interesting and new.”
  • David Kuller’s team has created T-shirts sewn with sensors. Owners can wash the shirts as long as they remove the battery and the air sensor, about the size of a matchbox, prior to washing.  To measure health indicators, the shirts use an elastic strip of silver yarn that was originally designed for monitoring newborn babies. “We knew about the existence of these stretch sensors but hadn’t put them to test in any laboratory way.”

Stay tuned for an update this summer. The challenge winner will receive an award of $100,000 to be announced in June 2013 at Health Datapalooza IV.

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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A Breath of Fresh Air

By Dustin Renwick

Some of my friends love the scent of exhaust, but I wrinkle my nose at every junker car’s invisible comet tail of unpleasant fumes.

They’ve told me it’s sweet. I think it stinks.

Yet I’ve never considered how those odors might affect my health.

From this starting block, EPA joined with the Department of Health and Human Services to advance the exploration of technologies that collect data for our bodies and our surroundings.

Entrepreneurs and innovative solvers around the country submitted designs for portable monitors that link measurements of the air we breathe with metrics for how our bodies react to that air.

The My Air, My Health Challenge announced four finalists last week. Each team or individual will receive $15,000 and develop a working model to test the proposed systems. One winner will be chosen in June and will get $100,000.

Other government agencies have also begun to address this type of personalized healthcare. The Department of Defense will soon explore plans for an application to track wellness in service members.

Current technologies allow people to measure how far they run or how many calories they burned on a walk.

The leap isn’t far to imagine a near-term future where customized health data also includes metrics for air pollutants and our physiological reactions to them.

Until then, I’ll hold my breath.

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.