NYT Uses AR To Compare The World’s Most Polluted Air With Your City’s

NYT app users can view the air pollution levels from their city’s worst day.

It’s a sad fact that our Earth is currently suffering from rampant pollution. It’s in our waters, our land, and in the air. It is one of the world’s leading risk factors for death, with air pollution alone being responsible for 9% of deaths globally; that’s 5 million people

In an effort to help readers more easily visualize the immense effects of air pollution, a recent NYT’s article entitled “See How the World’s Most Polluted Air Compares With Your City’s” uses an accompanying AR mobile experience to help you visualize the nearly-invisible pollution floating all throughout our air.

Image Credit: New York Times

To compare your city’s air pollution with that of the most polluted areas of the world, open the story in your NYT’s app and look for the AR activation button below the second paragraph. Your phone will automatically find your location and show you the microsized pollution particles that were floating around on your city’s worst day. The particle measurement uses a concentration of an air pollutant (eg. ozone) given in micrograms (one-millionth of a gram) per cubic meter air and is shown using the equation µg/m3. The lower the number in front of that equation, the better your air quality.

For example, Albany, NY is the closest city to me with particulate concentrations reaching 33 µg/m3, a number that is considered “moderate” compared to the air in the Bay Area last year when California was covered with a blanket of smoke from a large fire. The particulate pollution reached 200 µg/m3, which is considered “very unhealthy”. You can also explore the particulate concentrations of cities such as Chicago, Shenzhen, Rio de Janeiro, and many others.

Image Credit: NYT New Delhi

Of course, nothing compares to the air quality crisis in northern India where the particulate levels in New Delhi have reached over 900 µg/m3. To give you an idea of what this means, the E.P.A.’s definition of “hazardous” hits the top of the scale at 500 µg/m3, which is considered maxed out, putting New Delhi into “extreme” territory.

Thanks to the NYT’s AR experience, we can actually see what those microscopic pollution particles look like.

Graham Roberts was the creative lead for the NYT’s pollution AR app before leaving the publication to join Google as their Digital Design Lead at Google’s Brand Studio, an innovation lab that looks at how the company can create meaningful experiences that will connect Google products with customers.

Right after leaving the NYT, Roberts tweeted, “This was the last AR project I worked on at the Times, based on a belief that geolocated experiences that create a data layer over our physical environment has great potential. I think the team did a stellar job bringing it to life.”

Image Credit: New York Times

Many people think that our planet is in no immediate danger; that no matter how much we pollute it, nature will come along and fix things. After all, if we can’t see it, it doesn’t even exist, right?  By making the pollution particles of our environments visible to the human eye using AR, NYT’s app may help push individuals to take air pollution – or any pollution for that matter – more seriously.

This isn’t the first time the NYT’s has used AR to help tell a story. The paper used an AR experience to help readers visualize the openings rescuers had to swim through during the Thailand Cave Rescue, and even used VR to tell the stories of people displaced from their homes. 

The NYT’s app is available for both iOS and Android devices.

About the Scout

Bobby Carlton

Hello, my name is Bobby Carlton. When I'm not exploring the world of immersive technology, I'm writing rock songs about lost love. I'd also like to mention that I can do 25 push-ups in a row.

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