Poluino (pollution + Arduino) is an educational initiative distributing DIY air quality monitor kits.

Photo of Chris Chen
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Please confirm you meet the following criteria

  • We have submitted the supplemental form linked in the description above
  • We are aged between 14 - 20 as of February 11, 2021
  • We live in the United States or its territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa)
  • We are not employed by, or directly related (parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • We have been working on this project for at least three months
  • We consent to Ashoka and/or GM featuring our work on their website, social media, and in other materials regarding this Challenge using the information in our application
  • We confirm we have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

poluino.xyz (currently under development)

Date You Started Your Project


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Over the last decade, the combustion of fossil fuels by factories, power plants, and cars has increased air pollution to the point where it now contributes to one in eight deaths worldwide (WHO). Because government air quality sensors are sparse, the issue is overlooked in many regions. From Los Angeles to Bangkok, access to data is crucial for policymakers to make informed decisions and for society to understand the true extent of pollution.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Poluino (pronounced pol-wee-no) will produce and distribute DIY air quality monitor kits. Each kit will contain step-by-step documentation on device-building and data collection, made accessible to those with little to no experience. Once built, kit users place their monitors outdoors to record pollution levels (including PM2.5, PM4, PM10, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, and VOCs). The data can then be uploaded to Poluino’s website database, displaying an interactive map of real-time data from kits across the US and around the world. A significant element of our project will be outreach-based. First, through educational advocacy, we aim to spread STEM awareness by starting hands-on programs in schools. Second, through awareness, we want people to understand that air pollution affects everyone, regardless of one’s location. This includes sharing compelling trends with news outlets, universities, and through social media.

3. Please tell us how you are using science, technology, engineering or math to address your environmental challenge.

Internet of Things (IoT) is a rapidly-growing global network of online devices estimated to dominate the world by 2040. Poluino is an application of IoT that will help students witness firsthand how technology forms a robust framework for increasing interconnectivity and for addressing social issues like climate change. With the Arduino framework's help, Poluino will teach students how to program microcontrollers and build simple circuits. Our vision is to create a fun learning experience for beginners to dip their toes into the vast fields of electrical engineering, computer science, and environmental sciences.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

When I visited China a few years ago, I was astonished by how pervasive air pollution in megacities like Shanghai and Beijing was. Thick, dark smog blanketed the city, and, at times, the skies were perpetually grey—even brown-ish at times. It was common to see pedestrians wearing surgical masks due to unhealthy air quality warnings. I remembered searching up the issue. In one article, a Chinese artist became famous for using a vacuum cleaner to extract dust from the air to create a brick. An actual solid brick. What I saw was a stark difference compared to the rural suburbs of St. Louis I grew up in. That realization always stuck with me, so when I met Michael, a student from Portland, and half a dozen other high schoolers with the Poluino idea (originally called Weather Station Project), I immediately said “yes.”

5. Video (Keep it simple, your phone on selfie-mode is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

We initially worked for a startup to earn money to afford Poluino’s website and R&D costs. The team has worked hard to build a website, web interface, custom API, and firmware in our spare time. We’ve sketched a proof of concept, designed the device using CAD (3D graphics software), and assembled the physical parts. We’ve gone through many, many iterations; at the moment, we’re making the final touches and adding useful (and cool!) features.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Poluino will host one of the world’s first free, open-source AQIs (Air Quality Index) to encourage transparency and collaboration—most AQIs are business-owned and hidden behind subscription paywalls. Our kits will be sourced from high-quality suppliers and priced without markup (around $50-60). Most importantly, we emphasize educational access and streamline the device setup process considerably for beginners. Students won’t need to learn several programming languages to get started and can ideally choose to learn other aspects of the project at their own pace.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made.

We’ve already delivered three kits to three early testers to get feedback. The beta testers all had great experiences, and their suggestions have refined our kits. In the long run, we will continue to talk to kit owners to monitor our impact. To measure our influence quantitatively, we will track the number of kits sold, the number of students we’ve helped, and the amount of data uploaded to the Poluino AQI. Though we’ve yet to make a substantial impact, Poluino is impacted the team itself; we've learned so much and grown tremendously. We’ve made new friends and gotten to know each other better. We’ve improved our practical skills in working with servers, programming, and circuit design. Ultimately, we found a shared passion that defies the long distances (and social distancing) separating us.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

As we continue to solicit feedback from beta testers, perfect our kits’ quality, and talk to manufacturers, we’re stoked for Poluino’s launch in the coming months. One of our big priorities for this year is establishing free STEM kit programs for K-12 schools and clubs located in less privileged communities. And we won’t be alone. Poluino is currently partnered with Clean My Planet, a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a global platform of over 500 young environmentalists. They have a lesson design project called Sprout geared towards elementary schoolers, and we’re working to incorporate Poluino into the curriculum. We’ve also spoken to Greenpeace and an engineering group in India to form additional relationships, which would boost our reach.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

Since July, we have amassed an online chat community of over sixty people staying updated and involved with our project. Many of these people are students like us: they’re already familiar with tech, but who are, through Poluino, only now being exposed to IoT’s implications with climate change and social justice issues. We believe our interdisciplinary approach gives people with a broad array of interests a way to contribute to a bigger goal: bringing attention to air pollution.

11. How would you partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

Our vision is to act as a gateway for those who’ve yet to take action to be changemakers. Through the seemingly small act of setting up a monitor in one's neighborhood, one becomes mindful of the broader community, and the earth. They then re-evaluate their surroundings and ask: "What more can I do?" To reach these future changemakers, we wish to collaborate creatively with everyone—schools, clubs, political organizations, and service groups; students, activists, and volunteers.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

Poluino’s messaging will aim to appeal to all demographics and interests. It's ambitious, but everyone should be excited about the idea of building something new. Additionally, while our educational outreach targets youth, the educational aspect still exists for adults wanting a challenge. An average person who simply wants a weather station (like the ones you can get at Costco) will find Poluino appealing because our online features aren’t available elsewhere for free.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Sales
  • Donations less than $100

14. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you? You’ll be able to select only one option.

  • Project Plan & Strategy

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kai-Han Chang

I love the education piece of this idea, and how it will raise people's awareness regarding air quality. It will be a great resource for citizen science as well!

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