Plume Labs is helping Londoners map air pollution
- Age of business: 1.5 years
- Name of business: Plume Labs
- Location: Paris, France
- Team: Romain Lacombe & David Lissmyr, Founders
- Funding: ODINE
- Elevator pitch: Waze for air pollution
What does Plume Labs do?
Plume Labs is the startup that helps you breathe. We build personal sensors to track air pollution wherever you go, and a mobile app with recommendations to reduce your exposure. Smog is the number one avoidable cause of death worldwide according to the World Health Organization, and the top health concern for parents in London. Our technology aims to make the air we breathe more transparent.
How did you meet?
We actually met 15 years ago… in our high school math class!
Where did the business idea come from?
Two years ago, Romain was training for the Paris marathon and David had just become a father – and both where wondering about urban air pollution, what it meant for their health and that of their loved ones, and what they could do about it. We were appalled at the lack of clear, understandable, accessible and actionable information on how to avoid air pollution – and decided to take the matter into our own hands.
Are you working with any other partners?
We have been extremely lucky to work with the National Research Council in France (CNRS) to build a cutting-edge wearable air sensor, and are now collaborating with the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London to study how to best apply this technology to help people beat air pollution. Our first product the Plume Air Report is an app that tracks live air pollution open data from agencies and scientific networks in 300 cities around the world. ODINE helped us build an API to make this data accessible to everyone.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Demand bolder action on pollution. A year ago, the air quality data we collect around the world showed Paris had become more polluted than Beijing for a day! The city’s air quality board initially tried to censor us… Fortunately, Parisians knew we told the truth when the Eiffel Tower disappeared behind smog. The French government later cut half the cars from the roads for a day. A true lesson in the power of open data.
How has ODINE helped you so far?
ODINE has been very helpful in funding the development of our Plume Air Cloud platform and make it open to everyone through an API. It’s a way to give back to the community: the data we collect from governments, local authorities or scientific networks in 42 countries around the world will now be available in open data for other developers to build on it. We believe this will eventually make it easier for citizens everywhere to avoid excessive exposure to air pollution.
What advice would you give to other companies pitching to ODINE?
Open data is more than a strategy: it’s a collaborative movement. Make sure your business model empowers other open government innovators as much as it builds upon the work they share.
What would you say to other startups thinking of working with open data?
We’ve been involved in open data one way or another since the very early days in Europe. David built AI platforms using open source algorithms, and Romain co-founded the French Prime Minister’s open data taskforce data.gouv.fr. It’s been very inspiring to see this movement grow from a common hope shared by activists in the late 2000s, all the way to an official government policy supported by the G8 and the UN in 2013. There’s a lot more work ahead for open data to truly live up to its potential, and it’s up to us innovators to make the most of it – and leverage the power of data to make the world more transparent, more just and more inclusive.
How would you encourage big business to buy into the open data movement?
The main issue facing large corporations today is the tremendous mistrust from consumers and citizens. Open data is a powerful way they can become more transparent on their practices, the quality of their products or their social and environmental impact. Even Nike now has a chief data officer. Supporting open data is a smart way for corporations to foster innovation and better serve their customers and constituencies.
What’s the key trend in open data at the moment?
Governments have started to embrace open data as a policy, and startups as a resource on which they can build better products and services to talk about civic issues. But what is truly exciting at the moment is seeing citizens supporting this movement as well.
We recently ran a crowd-funding campaign to recruit volunteers to wear a prototype of our wearable air quality sensors. By helping crowd-source air pollution measurements around London, Plume’s beta testers will collectively build an open data air map of London, and help researchers at Imperial College study how smog varies throughout the city – and how we can all improve our environment and its impact on our health!
(This article first appeared on The Guardian)