June 20, 2008 A key starting point to helping the environment is determining what impact we personally have on the planet. To assist in this challenge researchers at UCLA have developed a way to generate online Personal Environmental Impact Reports (PEIR) using location data from cell phones.

The new tool is designed to help people understand their relationship with carbon emissions by seeing how their daily choices affect the environment and how the environment affects them. The information is provided via an internet portal and shows personalized, daily estimates of measures like particulate matter exposure on roadways and carbon emissions due to driving. The PEIR system, developed in conjunction with the Nokia Research Center, estimates a person’s impact and exposure using their actual travel patterns as uploaded from a GPS-equipped mobile phone. For each trip the user takes, PEIR links the location trace with data collected about thousands of neighborhoods in California. All of this information is then analyzed to provide not only the user’s impact on the environment, but also to show your exposure to negative environmental conditions. By combining the information about exposure to fast food and sensitive sites with the travel data, totals are calculated and displayed via the portal. You can see Per Day Average Impact and Exposure stats for each individual exposure/impact (Carbon, Particulate, Fast Food, Sensitive Sites) over different time periods - yesterday, last week, last month and last year.

The way the PEIR system calculates estimates specific to the user’s travel is by employing accepted scientific models such as the California Air Resources Board’s Emissions FACtors (EMFAC) vehicle emissions and Southern California Association of Governments traffic models. Using the PEIR portal, an individual can then compare values for different trips and see how their lifestyle changes affect their impact and exposure. They can also compare their averages with other PEIR participants via a Facebook group.

The PEIR site is currently accepting inquiries from people who would like to join its beta testing in late summer.