Google Street View cars will soon measure pollution

30 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Google Straps Aclima Sensors To Street View Cars To Map Air Pollution.

Imagine asking your phone to calculate the optimal route for cycling to work while enjoying the best air quality, or calculating whether it’s better to just take the train or bus to reduce pollution.From checking out various cities to taking a virtual vacation, Google’s Street View – a technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth – has provided 360-degree views from positions along many streets in the world.In partnership with San Francisco-based Aclima, Google Earth Outreach strapped environmental sensors onto its roaming vehicles in order to measure various air pollutants.

While Google’s Street View cars have been busy snapping images of roads across the globe, including some of the most remote locations on Earth, a small handful of the smart vehicles have been quietly gathering data on something that’s much harder to see: air pollution. Aclima, a company that creates networks of environmental sensors, announced this week that it’s been working with Google to put air quality detectors on some of its cars. In the city, it can vary from block to block, neighborhood to neighborhood, and many times the current network of sensors just doesn’t pick up on fine-scale pollution events that could also lead to a spike in your asthma. On Tuesday, Google and Aclima, a San Francisco-based startup that makes environmental sensor networks, announced a new partnership to map air quality in cities, building on a one-month pilot program conducted in Denver in which three Google Street Cars collected 150 million data points over 750 hours. An initial trial was run in Denver, where three cars with air quality sensors on them drove around for a total of 750 hours over the course of a month.

Starting this fall, three air quality cars will be buzzing around San Francisco, with the hopes of using the data to inform community decisions and new science and health studies. A key point of the test was to validate seven-year-old Aclima’s environmental sensor tech, which is a first step for the startup to offer the environmental sensors more widely. They measured for chemicals that are hazardous to breathe, like nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon, particulate matter, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

The company also makes it own hardware and has been developing what it says is the world’s smallest particulate matter sensor in collaboration with the EPA and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Aclima doesn’t say how widely these sensors will be used, but it wants to collect enough data to hand off to local scientists and communities to work with. Aclima says the data from its Google Street View test successfully correlated with the EPA’s air pollution data, gathered by stationary sensors, of the Denver area.

In addition to making it an interesting place to forecast, the micro-climate phenomenon can also add variability to the air quality from one neighborhood to the next. Already, the EPA says it’s helping to determine how air pollutants “move in an urban area at the ground level.” Aclima says that its Denver trial was a proof of concept that’ll help it to scale up the partnership. The bootstrapped Aclima came out of stealth last month, detailing how it designs and builds its own sensors, manages the network as they collect data, processes the data on its cloud backend, and produces analytics and visualizations.

Open data about air quality at different times of day will enable journalists to produce sensor journalism that informs the public, as the Associated Press has done in Beijing. Putting the sensors on cars and releasing them into the wild eliminates the inherently static nature of the monitoring network. “Mobile air quality sensing gives us a picture of the variability.

Someday, perhaps Google will publish environmental trends data about urban air quality, just as it publishes real-time data about what people are searching for at any given time, such as gun control, fashion trends and presidential candidates. Aclima was founded by Davida Herzl and her family in 2008, and the company only began to talk publicly about what it’s been up to about a month ago. With productivity of its huge elite workforce translating into billions in earned or lost revenue for Google, it has plenty of incentive to join up with Aclima.

If you happen to be out in San Francisco and see a Google car, you can tell if it’s crunching air quality data by checking to see if there’s an anemometer on top. It will then be up to governments and responsive institutions to apply that transparent data in meaningful ways to reduce congestion, combustion, power plant emissions or smoke from cooking. If we can know where pollution hotspots are, we can know where to put green spaces.” The Google partnership will allow it to rapidly scale the deployment of its sensors. Better, and more, data will be crucial to helping cities combat the growing amount of air pollution causing human health problems, and causing global warming.

The ability to direct self-driving cars away from intersections where they might contribute to high-pollution zones could help convince cities they’re a positive change. Herzl concludes that Aclima’s sensors are producing social good out of the Internet Of Things, which is often thought of as just equipping homes with Wi-Fi-connected appliances.

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