• Blockchain
  • Air Quality Monitoring

Miami Is Building a Blockchain-Based Air Quality Ledger that Rewards Citizens

Grant Samms
Apr 22, 2022

Guidehouse Insights City

The advent of new technologies tends to be a messy affair. Their use cases may be unclear for years or even decades, assuming they emerge at all. This is where blockchain, and distributed ledger technologies more generally, find themselves. Although there has been no shortage of promised uses for the technology since the advent of Bitcoin in 2009, most people are hard pressed to see examples of the technology at work in their lives.

One reason is that it has taken time for blockchain platforms capable of hosting complex types of data and transactions to mature. Called “layer ones” in the blockchain industry, a growing number of these platforms are at a point that they can host outside projects built atop them. Several blockchains, such as Ethereum and Avalanche, are open to hosting wide varieties of applications. Some cities are taking note of this growing maturity as well as the number of vendors that have integrated blockchain data recording into their product offerings. The city of Miami has been a vanguard in looking for ways to implement the transparent and censorless nature of blockchain into its operations, including in its air quality reporting.

Miami’s Open Source Air Quality Ledger

Partnering with the French company PlanetWatch, Miami is empowering residents to host air quality Internet of Things sensors, add to a tamperproof air quality ledger, and get rewarded in the process. Hosted on the Algorand blockchain, the platform rewards those citizens who agree to host sensors with tokens that can be redeemed as a credit against the purchase of certain products. The result, Miami hopes, is one of the most detailed, transparent, and accessible records of air quality for any city. Miami is the third city to utilize the PlanetWatch platform after Milan and Taranto in Italy.

PlanetWatch develops on the Algorand blockchain because it utilizes a Proof of Stake consensus mechanism for security that is less energy intensive than Proof of Work. It is also an architecture with a very high bandwidth that keeps costs low. Algorand has a reputation for being utilized by early institutional adopters for official functions such as the Marshall Islands’ issuance of a national digital currency. Other public organizations have selected the Algorand blockchain to record creator rights and distribute identification documents to those in developing nations.

City Records on the Blockchain

What is notable about the Miami air quality project is that it demonstrates blockchain uses for smart cities beyond monetary transactions. Blockchain is, fundamentally, a technology for recording, storing, and utilizing information without the need to rely on a third party acting in good faith. In the Miami case, the city is building a record of its air quality that cannot be forged or tampered with after the fact. It builds this record using volunteer residents who are automatically rewarded for the data they send to the project without needing a city office to sign off on the transfer. The database that is created is also publicly available, so it can be utilized by third parties without the need for records requests.

This approach to record creation and storage demonstrates the potential of blockchain as a useful tool for local governments. The mayor of Miami has also expressed interested in placing municipal financial records on the Ethereum blockchain; a move that would apply the same benefits of the air quality project to these records. Although it’s still early in the use of blockchain by cities, there in a growing clarity around use cases and benefits of the technology. Over the next decade, it is likely that the use of blockchain by organizations of all kinds will become increasingly common place.