hackAIR: A review

hackAIR started in 2016 as a project to develop an open technology toolkit for citizens’ observatories on air quality. It was supported through the EU programme on “Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation” until December 2018.

As we’re coming to the end of the project, we want to celebrate some of the highlights with you: three years hackAIR in action!

Beginnings: 2016

Here is how hackAIR started – some quotes from the project announcement: 

“The hackAIR toolkit aims to complement official data with a number of community-driven data sources. […] ‘This crowd-sourced air quality data will provide citizens with improved information about air pollution levels where they live.’ […] The combination of both official open and community-driven data will thus contribute towards both individual and collective awareness about air quality in Europe.”

We asked: What do citizens need to monitor air quality in their neighbourhood?

Requirements for the hackAIR platform were co-created in workshops with interested stakeholders, in Norway and in Germany. These were the first steps in a well-designed process focusing on user participation and engagement.

Looking back at the first nine months, the hackAIR team reported:

“Nine months have passed since the hackAIR kick-off meeting took place… and we have been busy since! Co-creation workshops, the first technical services on image analysis and data retrieval, privacy impact assessment for users and stakeholders and testing air quality estimation with existing sky-depicting images available on social media.”

Prototypes and development: 2017

At the Digital Social Innovation Fair in February 2017, latest news from the hackAIR team were presented, including an early prototype of the hackAIR Arduino sensor that showed real-time measurements of the air quality. And, as you see: the panel conversation was captured in visuals!

Behind the scenes of hackAIR during 2016 and 2017, the different parts of the hackAIR platform and app were taking shape. Pilot activities and ways to engage users were prepared.

Ready for action: 2018

The big moment: the official launch on February 8!

Since its launch, the hackAIR platform has engaged thousands of Europeans. They are monitoring air quality in their neighbourhood in various ways: providing air quality measurements to the platform with their own self-built sensors and taking photos of the sky with the hackAIR app to estimate the air quality.

Pilot projects in Germany and Norway contributed with a series of workshops to raise awareness of air quality issues and mobilise health-conscious communities. Participating in such a sensor-building workshop created behaviour change regarding air pollution.

A workshop toolkit was designed to support workshop facilitators, providing a number of resources for all who want to organise their own hackAIR workshop.

The hackAIR tech team prototyped an innovative way to get estimations of the air quality. The hackAIR app includes a feature for taking photos of the blue sky. The analysis process provides an estimation of air quality to the user.

The summer photo contest resulted in 208 submissions from 5 countries (an 367% increase in daily photo submissions during the contest period).

To make it even easier for citizens to measure air quality, hackAIR offered plug-and-play hackAIR air quality sensors – no soldering, no programming!

The outcome: 100 sensors sold in 3 months! Next batch being prepared for 2019!

Together with the artist collective Pollution Explorers and Umbrellium, hackAIR was able to try out wearable technologies and new engagement approaches in its workshops.

We published a series of blog posts on data visualisation and sense-making for those who are interested in visualizing their hackAIR sensor data. hackAIR users shared exciting experiments with us: Kniwwelino, Google Data Studio, Google Sheets & other tools.

A data fusion algorithm calculates estimates for air quality for locations in which no measurements are available. This makes it possible for hackAIR  to provide a continuous map of air quality information.

A Round Table on lower cost air quality sensors was organised by the Joint Research Centre & hackAIR. Governmental authorities, citizen science initiatives, environmental NGOs & academics explored how to collaborate & better leverage each other’s work. Read more here: http://bit.ly/2qxTBQv 

This event showed the strong network of stakeholders and related projects that hackAIR has built during its project time.

Onwards! 2019++

The hackAIR platform remains available! Citizens can continue to contribute air quality measurements and access air quality information through the mobile app or web platform. Air quality data can be accessed using an open API – and the full datasets of measurements are available as open data. Source code and hardware designs are available for download under an open licenses and incorporate dozens of community suggestions and improvements.

Data visualisation with Node-RED Dashboard

Here is a special treat for hackAIR users who are interested in more ways to visualise their sensor data. We have received this awesome work from Jo Torsmyr, a hackAIR user from Norway. Here is what he sent us:

I am using Node-RED and Node-RED Dashboard to collect and visualize data from my hackAIR sensor. The hackAIR dashboard for my sensor can be found here: hackAIR Bislett dashboard 

The hackAIR dashboard compares air quality data (PM 2.5) from the hackAIR sensor, the nearest air quality measurement station from Luftkvalitet.info (Kirkeveien), and my indoor air quality measurement station, a Foobot air quality measurement device. The dashboard shows the latest readings in gauges, and historical measurements in graphs. Time period (from and to date) for the graphs can be selected as desired.

Here is a snapshot from my dashboard:

Technical information

My hackAIR dashboard runs in the cloud and is implemented with Node-RED flows and the Node-RED Dashboard, running on a Node.js server. Node-RED flow runs every 5 minute to collect newest sensor readings. The sensor data from my hackAIR sensor (and the Foobot sensor device), is stored in a Cloudant NoSQL database. The dashboard gauges is automatically updated with the newest sensor data. The database is used to get historical data for the graphs.

Node-RED flow

Here is a screenshot of the main Node-RED hackAIR flow:

Generic dashboards: Open AQ and Luftkvalitet.info

I have also created generic dashboards for Open AQ and Luftkvalitet.info for visualization of air quality measurements from their stations.

You can find the Open AQ dashboard at this link. Here is a screenshot:

The Luftkvalitet.info dashboard is here. A screenshot is added here:

Node-RED air quality nodes

I have created specific Node-RED nodes for Open AQ and Luftkvalitet.info for easy consumption from Node-RED if you want to roll out your own visualization or computation. Check out the Node-RED Open AQ nodes and the Node-RED Luftkvalitet.info nodes.

Have fun with this newest addition to the data visualisation tools on the hackAIR website!

hackAIR workshop in a primary school

Bring together in one room: 21 enthusiastic kids, an air quality expert from the VUB (Free University of Brussels), smartphones in the classroom and many empty drink cartons to build their own cardboard sensors. These were the ingredients for the hackAIR workshop at a primary school in Brussels – a big success!  

What do you already know about air quality? How is the air quality in your city, around the school, in your street? And what could you do next week for a better air quality in your neighbourhood?

The 8-10 year old pupils were very eager to answer, discuss and explore these questions using the hackAIR platform. Carina Veeckman (VUB) did a great job in explaining and guiding the children into the world of air quality. And well: they had so many questions!

After a round of theory and platform exploration the kids went outside to take photos of the sky with smartphones and tablets. And so they did the next day (and the next day…)

In the next round they were ready to build their own hackAIR cardboard sensor. Cutting, folding, bending, coating.

At the end of the afternoon 6 sensors were placed at the school gate and several more taken back home to measure the local air quality in the children’s neighbourhoods.

And finally the kids made posters to convince all the parents of the school to act for better air quality. What convincing activists they are!  

This workshop was co-hosted by Inge Jansen (ON:SUBJECT) and Carina Veeckman (VUB). This workshop report was written by Inge Jansen.

How to upgrade your hackAIR sensor

The hackAIR project is slowly coming to an end! While our servers will still remain live for a while, we want to make sure you can continue to use your own sensors as long as possible. For that purpose, we have started a collaboration with OpenSenseMap and created an improved version of the software running on our sensors that sends measurements to both OpenSenseMap and hackAIR.

Below are the step-by-step instructions to upgrade your hackAIR sensor with the new software version. Note: We’ve tested the new software, but we provide these instructions without guarantee. If you have suggestions to improve them, let us know!

3 Steps to upgrade your sensor and make it compatible with OpenSenseMap:

Step 1: Get your access keys

  • Go to https://opensensemap.org and create an account (→ Register)
  • Register your sensor ( → New SenseBox),  select hackAIR as the sensor type and take note of your senseBox ID and senseBox access token.
  • Go to your profile on http://platform.hackair.eu and take note of your hackAIR access key as well.
  • Connect the sensor to your computer with a micro-USB cable.

Step 2: Upgrade your sensor

These instructions assume that you have installed hackAIR software on your sensor before. If this is your first time, start with Step 2a below before continuing here.

  • Open the Arduino IDE and install the following additional libraries (Sketch ➞ Include Library ➞ Manage Libraries…)
    • Adafruit_MQTT Library by Adafruit
    • ArduinoJson by Benoit Blanchon (Attention! Use version 5.13.2, not version 6)
    • ESP8266 InfluxDb by Tobias Schürg
  • Download the new hackAIR sensor software from https://github.com/hackair-project/hackair-v2-advanced and open it. Then upload it to your sensor using Sketch → Upload. That’s it!

Step 3: Connect your sensor to your WiFi

  • Disconnect the sensor from the computer. When you power it up, it will create a temporary WiFi network. With your laptop or phone, connect to the WiFi network ESP-wemos. Go to and configure the WiFi by entering the details of your home WiFi (SSID and password).
  • You will also be asked for your hackAIR access key and your OpenSenseMap credentials (senseBox ID and senseBox access token).
  • Once set up correctly, the temporary network will disappear and the sensor starts sending measurements to both platform.hackair.eu and opensensemap.org.

Happy measuring!


Step 2a: If this is the first time installing software on your hackAIR sensor

  • Download, install and open the Arduino IDE
  • add the board manager http://arduino.esp8266.com/stable/package_esp8266com_index.json
  • Go to Tools ➞ Board ➞ Boards Manager… and select LOLIN(WEMOS) D1 R2 & mini
  • Select the correct port by going to Tools ➞ Port ➞ [name of the port]
  • Install libraries. Click on Sketch ➞ Include Library ➞ Manage Libraries… and install the following libraries:
    • WiFiManager by tzapu
    • DHT sensor library by Adafruit
    • Adafruit Unified Sensor by Adafruit
    • hackAIR by Thanasis Georgiou

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