Air pollution is now a global issue that is not only threatening our planet but is also claiming lives. The problem exists primarily in the urban areas of the world, and the World Health Organization has established air quality standards of which many cities fail to meet.
In the U.S. alone, more than 50,000 deaths each year are caused by air pollution and the global number is closer to 3 million. While there have been some programs put in place to either reduce emissions or “clean” the air, the importance of monitoring and tracking air quality is just as great. Here are just a few of the innovative methods that are being used around the world to track the quality of our air.
When you click on “street view” in Google Maps, you often receive an image captured by a Google vehicle. Since these cars are already driving through your city, Google recently partnered with San Francisco company Aclima for a trial project in Denver. During the trial, sensors were attached to Google Street View vehicles to gather 150 data points, which were shared with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
There are currently over 2 billion smartphones in circulation, and that number is expected to surpass 6 billion by the year 2020. Companies, and countries, are finding ways to leverage this technology to measure air quality around the world. In 2015, the ISpex EU project was launched in 11 European cities. Participants downloaded a free smartphone app that takes photos of the sky, analyzes light reaching the devices, and reports levels of atmospheric particles.
Personal Air Quality Devices
Smartphone apps are also now interfacing with a variety of personal air quality monitors, that people can clip to their clothing or handbags. These devices, such as the TZOA “enviro-tracker,” will track air data as you move around the city and transmit that data through your smartphone. The information is then made available to scientists and other users of the technology.
City-Wide Air Quality Trackers
Obviously, measuring and tracking air quality demands access to massive amounts of data. Several U.S. cities are approaching this differently, all with positive results. Chicago has been monitoring air quality since 2014 with its Array of Things, which is a citywide network of sensors mounted on lampposts to measure and report air quality conditions.
Pittsburgh, with its The Breathe Project, is using four panoramic cameras that allow citizens to zoom in on specific sources of pollutants as well as view certain measurements. Louisville has implemented a program called AIR Louisville, with the cooperation of the city’s asthma sufferers. GPS air quality measuring devices are embedded in inhalers, which collect data from around the city.
The Pigeon Patrol
Plume Labs in London might have developed one of the most unique ways to track and monitor air quality. While many people view pigeons as a nuisance, a group of scientists have employed a squadron of 10 homing pigeons, dubbed the Pigeon Air Patrol, to conduct air pollution monitoring around the city. These talented birds are equipped with lightweight monitoring backpacks and then sent out into various parts of the city to gather data on ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and other pollutants in the air, all of which can be viewed on Twitter.
Advances in technology and citizen involvement are producing increasingly innovative methods of measuring air quality around the globe. These tracking devices are both spotlighting pollution issues and providing measurements for pollution reduction programs that will bring cleaner air to our planet.