Innovation That Matters

Toy pollution tracker

Toy canary helps track pollution in a child’s surroundings


Its creators hope the small device will open a dialogue between parents and their children about pollution and its effects.

Researcher and designer Daniel Goddemeyer has worked with New York-based research and design studio OFFC to create the Urban Canary, a plastic bird-like toy that can track pollutant levels in its surroundings. This is the result of a conceptual experiment exploring new ways to combat city air pollution.

The device is designed to accompany a child, continuously measuring the air quality nearby to alert the owner in case of air pollution. In areas with poor air quality, the canary becomes ‘ill’ and can be examined using the parents’ smartphone to gather more information about the cause of the illness and learn of ways to heal the toy. For more detailed information, a summary on the app shows the areas, times, and amounts of pollution that both the Urban Canary and the child were exposed to throughout their daily activities.

When the Urban Canary is first given to the child it is healthy and well, indicated by its steadily blinking green pulse. Over time, as if reflecting the child’s own health, the Urban Canary’s health becomes affected by prolonged exposure to higher levels of pollution. Changing with continued exposure to pollutants, the colour of the Urban Canary’s pulse gives a constant visual indication of its health and recent exposure to pollutants, with red signifying the poorest ‘health’ and therefore the worst pollution. Depending on the child’s age, general health and inevitable exposure to low levels of pollution in the urban environment, the sensitivity of the Urban Canary to pollution can be adjusted in the settings.

In their connected network, the Urban Canaries would look out for each other and suggest unpolluted spots nearby to recover. By sharing their measurements with each other, they could create a comprehensive pollution map that can be used to spare children from excess pollution in the future. The team behind this conceptual experiment also aims at inspiring a dialogue about pollution between parents and their offspring.

The Urban Canary is another innovative way technology has merged with child’s play to provide an educational tool. Did you ever think programmable bricks that teach children about robotics and a voice-activated artificial intelligence robot that personalises learning would ever reach the market? How else could technology assist with a child’s learning about the wider world?




Download PDF