Living in cities brings us unparalleled levels of convenience such as access to high-quality public services such as healthcare and education. However for all the advantages offered by city living, it has not come without its own costs. Pollutant levels such as Carbon Monoxide in urban environments are unacceptably high. In many heavily urbanized areas, particularly in the developing world such as China, India and Brazil, CO Detectors often register levels many time higher than accepted ‘safe’ levels.

Unfortunately, this is by no means a problem exclusive to the developing world, with many major cities as far afield as Singapore, Seoul, London, New York and Los Angeles also regularly experiencing unsafe Carbon Monoxide levels.

As with any problem, the first step to overcoming it, is to understand the nature and scope of the problem. And it is with that goal in mind that we developed The Red Balloon Air Pollution Detector, to help people monitor air pollution levels in their local environment.

How it works

The basic idea is quite simple with a CO detector attached to the red balloon (or the balloon color of your choice) which allows it to measure Carbon Monoxide concentrations in the air. If the Carbon Monoxide concentrations are outside safe limits (which can be set and customized by you when you are programming the system) then the LED that is soldered to the board will turn from green to red. While very simple on the surface, this setup can be easily modified to suit a variety of needs (which we discuss in a bit of detail further on).

MQ7 sensor on breadboard

A great starter project

The red balloon air pollution detector is easy to assemble and makes for an excellent project for a beginner; so if the kids have been watching you put together some of our other Arduino based gadgets and would like to join in and try making one for themselves, this is a great project for them to get started on.

With just a handful of parts and some basic assembly work needed, you can have this simple home-made CO detector up and running in just a matter of hours. Once it’s put together you can test it around the neighborhood, in your backyard or anywhere else you’d like to measure the carbon monoxide levels in the air.

The need for safety

While this project is fun to put together and use, it does nonetheless convey an important message about the need for safety and the risk to human health that come with prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide. Since Carbon  Monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas it is only detectable via a sensor system which makes it all the more dangerous. In the United States alone, over 430 people die from Carbon Monoxide poisoning, almost all of which could have been avoided had there been appropriate safety equipment in place to warn them about rising carbon monoxide levels in their area.

Plenty of room for modification

Once you’ve got the basics down, you can add on functionality and extra features as you please. For example, you could install additional detectors to run a battery of scans checking for other hazardous materials in the air such as suspended particulate matter, Carbon Dioxide levels, ammonia levels or anything else you’d like to be able to measure for and connect them to either the same diode or different ones for each so that you know exactly what contaminant is currently too high in the area. You could also attach speakers to the circuit to provide aural feedback in addition to the visual indicator provided by the LED.

Great for home safety too

While the Red Balloon CO Detector has been designed for outdoor use it can still find applications in the home to help safeguard against accidental exposure to dangerous Carbon Monoxide levels. Areas like the garage or the basement, particularly near gas powered heaters can have unsafe CO levels. If you don’t already have professionally built CO detectors in place, these Air Pollution Detectors are a great stop-gap measure, though professional Carbon monoxide detectors installed throughout the home are still highly recommended.

Red Balloon CO sensor

Give the Red Balloon Air Pollution Detector a try and post your results in the comments to see how your neighborhood’s pollution levels compared to those reported by our other readers around the world. And if you did put this project together, send us some pictures or videos of you assembling or using the detector? Let us know about your experiences or any cool improvements you made to the design and share them with other readers in the comments down below.