Traveling safely during the Pandemic — My real-world use of an AIClub Student App

Many AIClub students have applied their AI and technology learnings to solve real-world problems — in everything from medicine to agriculture. These solutions are not just noteworthy and prize-winning, they are also directly usable in daily life. In this blog I describe how I used CO2 Sensei — an app by Middle School AIClub students — available in the Apple App Store, to keep myself safe during a trip.

Vaccinations and mask mandates have made traveling vastly safer compared to what it was during the height of the pandemic in 2020. However, it is still not very clear what is safe and what is not, or how safe crowded places are. Wearing a mask is a good idea, but should I avoid busy locations with lots of people? What about plane travel? AIClub team MDS observed that ventilation is directly related to COVID-19 transmission and that CO2 levels are a good proxy for ventilation. Their app, CO2 Sensei, helps users measure, track and evaluate the safety of their environment via CO2 levels. The app pairs with sensors via Bluetooth, supports manual entry for any sensor and provides an automatic reading of sensor images via AI.

I decided to put this app to the test during my recent trip to Kauai.

The first step — I downloaded the app. This was easy. I went to the App Store and downloaded the app into my iPhone. I also packed into my bag an Aranet CO2 Sensor.

Downloading CO2 Sensei from the App Store

Using the app, I tracked the CO2 levels in my environments at different points in my trip: the car ride to the airport, the airport lobby, restrooms, in-flight before takeoff, during flight, in the cab to the hotel in Kauai, hotel lobby, hotel room, breakfast, the beach, etc.

What did I need to do to track all of these? Not much. When I first opened the app, it paired with my sensor via Bluetooth. From then on, I could record a reading whenever I wanted — even on the plane in airplane mode.

What did I learn?

  • Conventional wisdom states that the most unsafe part of the flight is being on board before takeoff (when the plane is full of people but the air conditioning and circulation that occurs during flight is not yet turned on). I found that this is not true. Yes — CO2 levels are high while boarding (around 700 — which CO2 Sensei declares as orange — mid-level of concern). However, the levels rapidly increased and during the 5-hour flight stayed around 1100 (CO2 Sensei labeled red). On the way back it was even worse — hitting 1450 at some times mid-flight. Noticing this — I used the best mask I had, an N95, and kept it on diligently during flight.
  • Airports were not that bad. Across different spots in SFO — CO2 levels registered at 700–750, even though there were many people around. The same was true of Kauai — a little better given that sections of the airport are directly open to the outside.
  • The hotel lobby and public spaces — with high ceilings and wide-open windows, were amazingly well ventilated. CO2 levels were nearly as low as the beach — 450–500.
CO2 Sensei reporting a color coded reading (Green means the CO2 Levels are low)
  • CO2 levels in the hotel room could go to 750–950. However, in the hotel room, at least I was only sharing air with my family — so that was not as much of a problem.
  • Cabs were fine as long as windows stayed open. Once windows closed, cabs started accumulating CO2 and I kept my mask on.
CO2 Levels changing during trip

The figure above shows how CO2 levels fluctuated on day 1 of my trip. I learned a great deal from this experiment. Even with the myriad of rules, best practices, and conventional wisdom, I now have a direct way to assess which locations are safe and which are not. Using this, I can decide how much time to spend in any given location and what type of mask to wear.

I am a software engineer by training and an expert in artificial intelligence. I am also a mom! I teach coding and tech to kids from grades 4-12.