Creativity and Gamification Fight Urban Air Pollution: TreeWifi and Pigeon Air Patrol

According to the World Health Organisation, over 80% of city dwellers across the world breathe polluted air, making it the greatest environmental risk to health. Here’s how two original projects involving pigeons with backpacks and ‘wifi-dispensing’ birdhouses help raise awareness and engagement with the ultimate goal of improving air quality, public health and quality of life.


3 million premature deaths worldwide every year

WHO has compiled comparative data on 795 cities in 67 countries for levels of small and fine particulate matter during the five-year period, 2008-2013. Ambient air pollution has been found to pose the greatest environmental health risk (heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases), causing more than 3 million premature deaths worldwide every year.

Says Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, “Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health. At the same time, awareness is rising and more cities are monitoring their air quality. When air quality improves, global respiratory and cardiovascular-related illnesses decrease.”

While the sources of urban air pollution are largely out of our control as individuals, we can make a difference collectively. Information is the first step to action and thus raising public awareness is the first step to engagement and change in behaviors.


TreeWifi: Free Wifi for Clean Air

Dutch company TreeWifi has designed a device with electro-chemical sensors measuring nitrogen dioxide pollution. The box, now experimentally set up in Amsterdam, also houses a wifi router and thus, TreeWifi monitors air quality, generates pollution data, and rewards the local residents with free Wifi for clean air.


As reported by, TreeWifi founder Joris Lam came up with the idea when he tried and couldn’t find specific information about pollution in his own street: “This lack of visibility of something as important as the quality of the air we breathe struck me. Being a designer, I set out to find a simple way to make air pollution visible to citizens in a way that people just understand on an emotional level, rather than having to dig through data and maps.”

“I think to get people involved in a subject they’d rather ignore, it’s always good to reward positive change in behavior.”

Most areas implying ‘obligation’ leave room for gamification to turn duty into a fun and engaging experience. In terms of attracting attention, piquing curiosity, and promoting eco-friendly practices in a fun way, this project reminds us of the Volkswagen Fun Theory and the famous bottle arcade and piano staircase that we’ve often mentioned on (see, for ex., Social Message in a Bottle).

The ‘players’ in this case are the neighborhood residents and instead of points and badges, TreeWifi uses LED lights to signal improvement in pollution levels. When the roof lights up, it means air quality is good enough to send out free wifi, so there is a real reward in addition to the benefits of clean air and the satisfaction of knowing one can make a difference.

Once connected to TreeWifi, people can get information about air quality in their street and tips on how to improve it. The idea is to foster citizen involvement and motivate more people to take up green practices such as car-free days, cycling and walking.

The designers are reportedly working on ways to add even more value by turning the box into an actual birdhouse that can keep birds warm in the winter using the heat from the electronics.

TreeWifi are still raising money for the project and you can contribute on their Heroes&Friends crowdfunding page:

For more info and updates, visit them on Facebook:


Pigeons with Backpacks and the London Air Patrol

Meanwhile in London, the French company Plume Labs, in collaboration with Imperial College London, has set out to create the first human-powered air pollution monitoring network.

To attract attention and recruit 100 beta testers of its pollution tracking sensors, in March 2016, Plume Labs teamed up with Twitter, and DigitasLBi agency to organize a creative awareness-raising campaign.

Pigeons With Backpacks Join The Fight Against Air Pollution — Pop Up City

Over three days, a flock of 10 pigeons equipped with sensors was released in London to collect air pollution data. Londoners could tweet @PigeonAir to find how toxic their area was. PlumeLabs also make such information from their thousands of monitoring stations across the world accessible via the app Plume Air Report, available on the Apple Store and on Google Play.

The crowdfunding campaign to finance the London Air Patrol project reached its £10,000 target in just 21 days. And in latest related news, DigitasLBi was awarded 2 bronze Cannes Lions awards for the Pigeon Air Patrol project.


Hopefully the broad and overwhelmingly positive response to these two initiatives will give wings to more creative environmental projects, whether ‘ornithology themed’ or not 🙂


[Featured image: Jeff Hong, “Unhappily Ever After”]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.