Google Street View Now Monitors Urban Air Pollution

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We’ve come to rely on Google Street View for everything from roads to hiking paths to coral reefs, but we may soon rely on it for something even more important – mapping urban air pollution.

Tech startup Aclima just announced a partnership with Google Earth Outreach to equip Google Street View cars with its mobile sensor platform. The partnership launched with a month-long pilot program in Denver paired with a research partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and will soon roll out in San Francisco.

Together Aclima, Google, and EPA will empower people to “see” urban air quality like never before, and could turn Google Maps into platform for mapping environmental air quality against public health standards.

Aclima Google Car
Google Street View car with Aclima sensors image via Aclima

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Google Street View Maps Urban Air Pollution Like Never Before

Aclima equipped three Google Street View vehicles for the Denver pilot program for a month-long system test during the DISCOVER-AQ study conducted by NASA and EPA. The cars spent 750 hours of drive time gathering 150 million data points on nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitric oxide (NO), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds; which were then correlated with data from EPA stationary measurement sites.

So far, EPA has relied on an extensive network of these stationary devices in urban areas to measure harmful airborne pollutants and determine if air quality meets or exceeds public health standards. While EPA’s monitoring network is designed to inform air quality regulation, it was unable to provide street-level air measurements – until now.

“Environmental air quality is an issue that affects everyone, especially those living in big cities,” said Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Google Earth Outreach Program Manager. “This partnership with Aclima enables us to take the next steps in our pilot project to utilize Street View’s existing infrastructure and test Google Maps as an environmental sensing platform for mapping the environment.”

Aclima Denver air quality
Aclima Sensory Science monitor image via Aclima

The Denver pilot returned interesting results. For instance, NO2 levels were elevated during the 7:00 a.m. morning rush hour when 40,000 vehicles hit the road but O3 levels were low because sunshine had just started its photochemical reactions. At 11:00 a.m., O3 concentrations reach their peak while NO and NO2 levels decrease from photochemistry and a thicker atmospheric boundary layer. By 7:00 p.m., O3 begins to decrease as photochemistry slows down but NO2 increases to a higher nighttime concentration.

This fall, the partnership will take its next step by expanding mapping efforts to the San Francisco Bay Area, and will begin engaging local communities and scientists to expand applications for the environmental tool – and the sky is the limit. “We have a profound opportunity to understand how cities live and breathe in an entirely new way by integrating Aclima’s mobile sensing platform with Google Maps and Street View cars,” said Davida Herzl, Aclima Co-founder and CEO. “With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities, environmental health is becoming increasingly important to quality of life.

Aclima Goes From Out On The Streets To Inside Your Home

While the Google Street View partnership could change the way we live and breathe outside, Aclima is also acutely focused on how we live and breathe inside. The company came out of stealth in late June with a comprehensive real-time system to map and analyze indoor and outdoor air quality.

Aclima’s Sensory Science system connects stationary sensors with scalable hardware and software to generate billions of data points across multiple environmental factors, and can monitor air quality either in one office building or across an entire city. For several years, 500 connected Aclima sensors have been monitoring air quality and analyzing 500 million data points daily across a global network composed of 21 Google offices around the world.

Aclima Node_City
Aclima Denver pilot program air quality data image via Aclima

The data covers temperature, humidity, noise, light, and indoor emissions; and will be used by Google to evaluate environmental factors within their offices and inform future workplace design decisions to boost employee health and productivity.

“We strive to create the healthiest and best possible work environments for Googlers,” said Anthony Ravitz, Google Real Estate and Workplace Services. “Our vision is to create buildings that seamlessly support the people who inhabit them. Using Aclima’s science-driven sensor networks to map our indoor environmental quality is a big part of making that happen.”

Check out the video below to see Aclima and Google Maps in action

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