This Coughing Teddy Bear Raises Air Pollution Awareness on London's Streets

McCann London has created an animatronic teddy bear that coughs when air pollution levels reach dangerous levels.
Jessica Miley

If you were near Brixton Road in London recently you might have seen a strange sight - a robotic teddy bear perched on a pole coughing. The cuddly bear is a physical manifestation of the horrific air pollution in the area.

When air pollution levels reached a limit set by the government that comes with the recommendation for anyone with heart or lungs issues to reduce exercise outdoors, Toxic Toby put his paw to his mouth and coughed.

McCann London a creative advertising agency is the brains behind the project. Its instigators say they are trying to bring the truth about air pollution into the public consciousness.

More Londoners die from pollution than road accidents

“We discovered the alarming statistic that more people die every year from breathing in toxic air than from car accidents,” says James Crosby, a creative at the advertising agency. A recent report showed that more than 400, 000 people die in Europe annually from air pollution-related health problems.

London is among the worst polluted cities in the region. London experiences about 200 deaths caused by car accidents each year while more than 9000 people die prematurely from illnesses related to air pollution.

Toxic Toby will tour the UK on an awareness-raising campaign

Toby the bear will be moved to other locations around London as part of the campaign to bring the issue of air pollution to the forefront of people’s minds. Toby was made from 3D printed parts and has the capability to turn his head, raise his paw and cough.

He is fed air quality data from BreezoMeter, a company that monitors hyperlocal pollution in real time. When the air pollution tips over a certain point, Toby is triggered to cough.

Each cough also triggers a tweet sent to local politicians urging them to take action on the issue of air pollution. Crosby who works on Brixton Road every day says the pollution is so bad, the air can often leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Children at risk just playing outside

As an asthma sufferer, he is also concerned with the number of primary schools in the vicinity. Children are at risk of developing respiratory diseases when exposed to poor air quality for long periods of time.


As well as targeting London the team plan to take Toxic Toby on the road to highlight other areas around the UK with unacceptably high levels of air pollution. The recent report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA) regarding air quality across Europe claims that air pollution is now the ‘biggest environmental risk’ in Europe.

The report condemned the EU for failing to act on the issue. “In recent decades, EU policies have contributed to emission reductions, but air quality has not improved at the same rate and there are still considerable impacts on public health,” Janusz Wojciechowski, an ECA member, who led the report, said in a statement.

Up to 40,000 deaths, a year are caused by poor air quality in the UK alone and politicians fear the unease around Brexit will cause the UK to slip further behind in environmental regulation.