Formerly Head of Innovation and Development at French government think tank Etalab, Romain Lacombe is founder and CEO of Plume Labs, a company that draws on the Internet of Things to make air quality – and more generally environmental concerns – a key part of people’s day-to-day lives.

[Portrait of an Innovator] Romain Lacombe works to reveal details of the air we breathe

An innovator?

Plume Labs develops technology which ‟tells you exactly what you’re breathing”. As a first step, with a view to ‟building a community focusing on this issue”, Internet users in over 60 cities worldwide – including Paris, New Delhi and Shanghai – were given access to the Plume Air Report, a sort of weather report giving hour by hour information on pollution levels in these urban conglomerations, together with recommendations on the best time to go out jogging or take your children to the park. This web platform, which will soon be available on mobile devices, is the outcome of aggregating data flows from public bodies.

The goal of Plume Labs also involves the Internet of Things. Romain Lacombe stresses that ‟pollution levels change from one minute to the next. There may be a degree of difference in pollution from one end of a single street to the other.” This data scientist working on environmental issues hopes to develop a connected object using sensors to capture real time data on the quality of the air in the immediate vicinity of the person wearing the device. ‟To some extent this is similar to what the Quantified Self movement is doing. We intend to progress from measuring pollution as a phenomenon to measuring it in terms of human experience.” This raises the question of how you set up pollution measurements. What exactly do we mean by measuring pollution? Romain Lacombe points out that there are four main pollutants which have a major impact on human health, including fine particulate matter and pollutant gases.

Another of Plume Labs’ objectives is to be able to predict pollution levels for the following few hours, based on data science, with a view to improving people’s health.The innovation?

Plume Labs develops technology which ‟tells you exactly what you’re breathing”. As a first step, with a view to ‟building a community focusing on this issue”, Internet users in over 60 cities worldwide – including Paris, New Delhi and Shanghai – were given access to the Plume Air Report, a sort of weather report giving hour by hour information on pollution levels in these urban conglomerations, together with recommendations on the best time to go out jogging or take your children to the park. This web platform, which will soon be available on mobile devices, is the outcome of aggregating data flows from public bodies.

The goal of Plume Labs also involves the Internet of Things. Romain Lacombe stresses that ‟pollution levels change from one minute to the next. There may be a degree of difference in pollution from one end of a single street to the other.” This data scientist working on environmental issues hopes to develop a connected object using sensors to capture real time data on the quality of the air in the immediate vicinity of the person wearing the device. ‟To some extent this is similar to what the Quantified Self movement is doing. We intend to progress from measuring pollution as a phenomenon to measuring it in terms of human experience.” This raises the question of how you set up pollution measurements. What exactly do we mean by measuring pollution? Romain Lacombe points out that there are four main pollutants which have a major impact on human health, including fine particulate matter and pollutant gases.

Another of Plume Labs’ objectives is to be able to predict pollution levels for the following few hours, based on data science, with a view to improving people’s health.

Plume Labs

                                      Plume Labs Report app available for Android devices in mid-May

So what impact will this have?          

In 2012, the World Health Organisation published the devastating figure of 7 million premature deaths linked to air pollution. ‟Air pollution is a major health issue; on a global scale it’s more deadly than tobacco,” points out Romain Lacombe, adding: “But we can do something about it. We argue that with better access to information we could all protect ourselves better against pollution and so improve urban living.” This desire to help guard against the risk of pollution is illustrated by the recommendations the platform publishes.

It is undeniable that a large number of people across the world find this an interesting subject. Proof positive is the popularity of the Plume Air Reports and the many interactions via the Twitter accounts of each of the cities covered by the reports. Meanwhile the recent high levels of pollution reported in Paris underline the true value of keeping citizens informed. 

 

And what does the future hold?

A mobile app for Android devices will be launched in a few weeks’ time. The next big step for Plume Labs will be to enter people’s homes ‟and make the Internet of Things work for the environment. We spend most of our time inside, without really knowing what we’re breathing. This is a little-understood issue.”

There is also the basic question of tying up loose ends. Open data at government level should help to drive concrete progress on global warming issues. The next step should not be long in coming as the forthcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, will be held in Paris towards the end of this year. Between now and then open data, Romain Lacombe’s main focus, will be helping all of us to arm ourselves to deal with these issues, while at the same time enabling France to be a key player in the connected health market. ‟These days open data has practically become a sovereignty issue. France must become one of the countries which are developing industrial platforms in this field, and this is why it’s important to ensure that the huge amount of information we possess is made available as a basis on which researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs can build their models going forward,” concludes Lacombe.

By Pauline Canteneur