SEP 19, 2017 02:59 PM PDT

These street-view cars are mapping urban pollution like never before

In an effort to better understand pockets of urban air pollution in California’s West Oakland, Google Street View cars have been equipped with special “mobile labs” from a San Francisco startup called Aclima.

Aclima’s mobile platforms were set up inside Hyundai Santa Fes in order to take advantage of the street view cars’ intricate GPS tracking system and 360-degree cameras. The cars then sampled air through an inlet on top of the car which pumped air into a pollution-monitoring system. These systems are able to detect and monitor all sorts of compounds that may be creating air pollution, such as black carbon, nitric oxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Once the systems take the data, the information for every specific street corner and block is stored on the Google Cloud Platform which is available to the public on Google Maps and Google Earth.

The unique aspect of this project is that the street view cars make mapping specific areas of the city more possible than ever before. “We visited each block on between 20 and 50 different days over the course of a year,” says Joshua Apte, an engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Such vast data sets provide more information on the “big picture” of air pollution for the city. “If pollution spikes for an instant, it may or may not be such a bad thing. But if pollution is consistently high, that’s something we really should care about."

Once the information is uploaded, anyone is able to go in and access data to see how air pollution levels change from one block to another. Currently, the project is one of the largest and highest definition data sets of urban air pollution ever. “The goal is to make this data available to more groups,” says Karin Tuxen-Bettman, program manager for Google Earth Outreach. “To put it in the hands of more people and make the invisible visible.”

Indeed, the interactive maps are already informing members of the community about the air they breathe. Erin Cary, Director of Advancement for a community garden in the neighborhood, mused: “We’ve known that there are air quality problems, but we hadn’t seen it on such a microscopic level,” she says. “The air quality in this community garden is different than down by the playground, but you wouldn’t have any sense of that without those sorts of mapping tools.”

An Aclima-equipped Google Street View car in Oakland, California. Photo: ACLIMA

Additionally, environmental scientists will be able to use the collected data and mobile monitoring system as a case study in order to apply the method to cities globally. Eventually, such technology may even make its way onto public buses and other public transport.

Sources: Google, CBS, Mashable, Curbed

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 05, 2018
Plants & Animals
DEC 05, 2018
All Known Sea Turtle Species Have Ingested Microplastics
The world’s oceans are undergoing a pollution crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen before, and the unsuspecting victims of said crisis ar...
JAN 23, 2019
Plants & Animals
JAN 23, 2019
Researchers Quantify How Much Rainforest Cover Cameroon Can Lose Before Birds Suffer
When it comes to animal conservation, habitat protection is often one of the critical ingredients of success. That said, it should come as no surprise that...
JAN 24, 2019
Earth & The Environment
JAN 24, 2019
Will climate change turbocharge Nor'easters?
New research published in Geophysical Research Letters and primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Energy suggests that climate change will not decrease...
FEB 03, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 03, 2019
The Effort to Sequence the Genomes of 1.5 Million Species
The Earth BioGenome Project aims to sequence and characterize the genomes of all known eukaryotes....
FEB 06, 2019
Plants & Animals
FEB 06, 2019
Are Islands to Blame for the Penguin Diversity We Have Today?
Scientists have been trying to learn about the factors that drive speciation since the dawn of time, and while there’s still much to be discovered in...
FEB 13, 2019
Earth & The Environment
FEB 13, 2019
New technology turns plastic waste into clean fuel
Polyolefin is a type of polymer that composes the largest group of thermoplastics, the two most important and common types of which are polyethylene and po...
Loading Comments...