Google Street View Cars to Track Urban Air Pollution

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Air-quality sensors on cars at heart of Aclima-Google partnership.

Startup Aclima has equipped Street View cars of with environmental sensors as Google drives the cars around the streets in order to gather data for Google Maps.The Google Street View team has been hard at work since 2007 to photograph roadways and attractions around the world (and catch husbands sneaking cigarettes).

Imagine a future where you type an address into the Google Maps app and it gives you the fastest route plus a measurement of air quality at your destination. That seems to be the direction things are heading, given a new partnership between Google and Aclima, a San Francisco company that designs and deploys large-scale environmental sensor networks. Currently, the EPA’s monitoring network does not give a detailed picture of a community or urban area for people to get a real sense of what air pollution is in their immediate surroundings, according to Aclima. The environmental monitoring company Aclima has announced a partnership with Google to deploy vehicles to set a standard in environmental awareness by equipping a mobile-sensing platform to record the air pollution around different cities.

Referring to the latter, Aclima said, “Vehicles and buses that drive repetitive routes through cities offer perfect platforms for Aclima sensing technology. It’s no secret that cities have bad air, but until now it’s only been possible to describe how bad in ordinal terms: Los Angeles is bad, but not as bad as Bakersfield, but both are nowhere near as nasty as Beijing.

Now they are partnering with an environmental sensor company named Aclima to also measure pollution and smog levels in the cities they’re canvassing. Davida Herzl, CEO and Co-founder of Aclima said: “Many things affect air quality – everything from our transportation and energy choices to green space and the weather. The partnership aims to use Street View and Google Maps as an environmental mapping platform as the companies consider the air quality in the environment an issue that affects everyone in the city, Google Earth Outreach Program Manager Karin Tuxen-Bettman stated. In just a few days of driving, an interconnected urban system comes into focus.” Aclima CEO Davida Herzl said many factors inform the quality of life we experience in cities in a video titled “Aclima and Google —How Cities Live and Breathe.” On any city day one can see what Melissa Lunden, director of research, Aclima, sees, as told in the video: “We’ve got buses.

During a 750-hour trial run in Denver, three of the tricked-out vehicles were able to detect pollutants such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon, and particulate matter while they cruised the streets. “With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities, environmental health is becoming increasingly important to quality of life,” said Davida Herzl, cofounder and CEO of Aclima, in a statement on the Aclima blog. There’s unlimited potential for our work to help improve the health and resilience of communities everywhere.” You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

We’ve got cars in traffic buildups….all are emitting pollutants that go into the mix of the city.” Aclima is on a fundamental mission toward improving human health through environmental protection. The Environmental Protection Agency has expressed interest in the data that the partnership will collect, because their current tools are permanent installations and cannot be easily moved to track changes in air quality throughout a community.

The agency currently relies on stationary sensors to pick up toxins, which is how daily Air Quality Index ratings and Smog Alerts are currently determined. Meanwhile, the long-term goal is to gather hyper-local data from various areas for use by ordinary citizens, policymakers, scientists, businesses and governments.

The offices were equipped with sensors and a system that processes 500,000,000 data points used to evaluate indoor environmental quality and factors, including measures of temperature, humidity, noise, light and air pollutants every day. Google aims the system, if provided on other companies, may help make better decisions on workplace design to support employee wellbeing, productivity and creativity. Prior to the announcement, Google was already working with the Environmental Defense Fund, or EDF, since 2014 to start tracking methane pollution from underground pipelines. This may be a transformative step to advancing air quality monitoring. “Our hope is that one day this information is as accessible as the weather,” said Herzl, where people can access the information on a daily basis and that, together, make smarter decisions that add up to change.

On the other hand, there is the question of just how much impact air pollution data unleashed on a city population, down to the streets where they live, might have. Aclima works with both off-the-shelf sensors, and those built in-house. “We partnered with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to develop the world’s smallest particulate sensor,” says Hertzl. She didn’t provide details, but indicated that her company’s products aren’t quite as cheap as she’d like them to be, and bringing the price down was a major goal. In an email, the company says it would make its data available to local and state governments to help them improve air quality, for example by mitigating pollution exposure (by planting trees, perhaps) or passing regulations. Denver was all about making sure that mobile sensing collected good data. “In the Bay we’re partnering with a number of different groups and scientists to explore the applications of this data,” says Hertzl.

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