Curious about the pollution levels in your neighborhood? Soon you’ll have the data at your fingertips, thanks to a partnership between Google and the San Francisco-based startup Aclima. The duo have announced plans to install Aclima’s internet-connected air quality sensors into the global fleet of Google Street View vehicles in order to create a map of air pollution levels around the world.
Initially the project is starting with 50 cars in Houston, Mexico City, and Sydney, with the sensors taking measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), and particulate matter (PM2.5). As the cars make their ways through the cities mapping land for Google Maps, they will simultaneously measure local air pollution levels which will then be compiled into a dataset on Google BigQuery and made available to the public.
This will be huge. A way to visualize the toxins in the air that we breathe everyday. While most of us currently have only vague understandings of just how much pollution is in our air, we’ll soon be able to see it for ourselves.
The team-up between Google and Aclima started a few years ago, and earlier this year they mapped air quality in London using the Street View cars as well as measuring within Google’s own campus and the Bay Area.
All of this data came together in a major scientific study, published in Environmental Science and Technology. In the introduction they state that while using vehicles to measure air pollution isn’t exactly new, what Google and Aclima are providing is a new approach: “equipping professionally driven fleet vehicles with air quality instruments, repeatedly sampling every street of an urban area, and applying data reduction algorithms to distill stable long-term spatial patterns from time-resolved data.” With consistent re-sampling of local areas they can provide accurate results from long-term periods and better understand air pollution. Davida Herzl, founder of Aclima, told TechCrunch regarding the study, “We found you can have the best air quality and the worst air quality all on the same street…Understanding that can help with everything from urban planning to understanding your personal exposure.”
With all of this research under their belts, Aclima and Google are now ready to scale up the project and turn this into a global undertaking. Google Street View cars have already covered 100,000 miles in California alone, collecting data for Aclima since 2015. Updated Aclima sensors will be installed in Google’s cars and will be released in the U.S. and Europe this fall. However it’s worth taking note of the irony that as Google’s large-scale fleet traverses our roads, the pollution they’ll produce is part of the problem.