There is a popular saying that a problem known is half solved. To effectively tackle air pollution, it is important to map the pollution patterns to know areas with heavier pollution burden.
In 2015 the Internet giant, Google, partnered with a startup in San Francisco to collect data across Mountain View, London, and California. The Street View cars are armed with Aclima’s air quality sensors and as they move around they collect data on air pollution.
Aclima was founded by Davida Herzl and the result of the initial study was published in Environmental Science & Technology. The result showed that the level of air pollution can vary significantly (up to a factor of eight) within a single street – from one end to another. According to Herzl, it is possible to have the best and worst air quality on the same street. This reality can shape urban planning as well as personal exposure.
Street View Cars Can Identify Different Types Of Pollutants
Aclima’s sensors can detect different air constituents and some of the mostly implicated air pollutants including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitric oxide (NO), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), particulate matter (PM2.5), and ozone (O3). According to the Internet giant, the data will be made public at Google BigQuery and given to academic communities.
There are plans to expand the data collection across the globe starting with 50 cars in Mexico City, Houston, and Sydney in Australia. The plan is to create a detailed and localized air pollution map in any given area.
The expansion of this project to cover the entire globe is important considering that the European Court of Auditors have pointed out that air pollution is one of the leading cause of premature deaths to the tone of 400,000 per year in the European Union. According to Herzl, “As air pollution and climate emissions pose an urgent challenge to human and planetary health, partnering with Google to scale Aclima’s environmental intelligence platform in Street View cars will activate awareness about local air quality in communities around the world where this information doesn’t currently exist.”
The current expansion of the partnership between Google and Aclima does not cover European cities but Google has initiated another partnership that will last a year with London to help map air pollution in the area. The partnership will feature two Street View cars built by Air Monitors, a UK company.
Air Pollution Measurement Is Not New
The idea of measuring air pollution is not new, just like monitoring plastic waste in the ocean. However, the partnership between Google and Aclima is able to attach professional air quality instruments on vehicles that repeatedly sample air in urban areas and use algorithms to analyze stable and transient patterns.
Since the vehicles are professionally driven and sampling and re-sampling are done over a prolonged period of time, the method is bound to provide more reliable results and help lawmakers to better understand the patterns of air pollution. In California alone, Google Street View cars have covered 100,000 miles.