Google and Aclima – a company that specialises in delivering environmental intelligence – are working together to make Google’s Street View cars measure and map pollution as they drive around doing their normal tasks.
Aclima and the Street View team have released the results of a year-long test that shows the scale and scope of the air quality measurements that are more detailed and more accurate than has been done before.
Normal air quality measurements are taken by stationary monitors that can only pick up details of their surrounding areas. The more you have, the more detailed a pollution map you will get, but it will never be truly accurate as it is only ever gathering data from one point. Unless you have a traditional monitor on every street corner, you don’t get a full picture of pollution in the city that you’re trying to study.
By fitting Aclima’s equipment in the Google Street View cars, you begin to get a much more accurate and detailed view of the pollution as it builds up around the city. Effectively, you can fill in the gaps that are lost between traditional monitoring stations, and you can put the two together to get an unprecedented level of environmental information.
“In a data-driven future, the environment must be represented,” an Aclima spokesperson says,”Solving urban air pollution requires solutions driven by science and powered by big data. Thankfully, technology now makes it possible to fill in the gaps. By equipping Street View cars with Aclima’s sensing platform, we’ve unlocked a new paradigm for understanding our environment.”
In the year-long test, two Google Street View cars travelled over 14,000 miles as they mapped the city using the camera array above them. Meanwhile, Aclima’s sensing platform was taking continuous measurements and creating a map of the city based on pollution levels. They collected information on levels of black carbon, nitric oxide, and nitrogen dioxide between May 2015 and May 2016 in West Oakland, USA.
“Solving urban air pollution requires solutions driven by science and powered by big data.”
“We chose to focus on these pollutants because they are known to be harmful to human and planetary health. Empowered with this new information, we will work with city officials and our local partners to discover insights and find solutions to alleviate pollution hot spots around the city.”
Aclima’s results show that pollution can change in much shorter distances than expected. You can see pollution changes across one city block, for example. Their results show the importance of their sensing platform, and justify the large-scale rollout of their system around the world.
Aclima’s next steps are to scale this effort and bring large-scale pollution mapping to other cities. In September 2015, they made a commitment with Google to expand their mobile sensing to communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and more cities in the USA and they’re measuring many more pollutants now as well. So far, more than 80,000 miles have been driven with Aclima’s sensor array to help share data and insights from their ongoing efforts to beat pollution.