Google to use Street View cars to measure air quality

Steven Loeb · September 28, 2015 · Short URL:

The company has teamed with Aclima to equip cars with a sensing platform

Before I moved to California a few years ago, I had never heard the word “smog” before. Yet I kept seeing signs all over the place for everyone to get whatever this thing was checked, so I finally decided to ask someone. And when I found out it kind of grossed me out.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that everyone likes to breathe in clean air. I mean, that's kind of a given, isn't it? Yet, how many actually do something about it? Very few, I believe, especially when it comes to those who have the most to spent on the problem.

You can't say that about Google, though, a company that has made it part of its mission to promote clean technology and to combat climate change.

Now it is putting some of its other technology to use in the cause, announcing at the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York, that it is partnering with Aclima to measure air pollution in more communities and map air quality at the street level by using Google Street View cars.

The cars will be equipped with Aclima’s air pollution sensing platform to measure and map air quality. There will be least three major metropolitan areas in California that will get access to this technology, including communities in the San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Central Valley regions.

California has a particularly high air quality problem, due to its high number of residents, 38 million, and the high number of registered vehicles, nearly 30 million. Honestly, considering how hard it is to get around here without one, I'm shocked that there are 8 million people without a car.

“With street-level air pollution data, a parent of an asthmatic child could reduce exposure to air pollution that causes asthma attacks when they go to the park to play. Bike commuters and outdoor enthusiasts could find the healthiest route for their trips. Or a city planner could pinpoint areas of low air quality in her city and devise specific solutions to improve it,” Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Program Manager, Google Earth Outreach, wrote.

“Seeing where and when the air quality is good or bad could help identify how to reduce pollution most effectively—like changing traffic light patterns to reduce idling traffic or keeping heavy trucks out of neighborhoods that are most vulnerable.”

Google has previously teamed up with Aclima in July on a project to map multiple air pollutants in Denver.

Using Google Street View cars is a pretty ingenious way to collect this information. These are cars that are already out on the road, attempting to map the entire world, a noble enough effort in its own right. Now they are being used for an more worthwhile cause.

Google's environmental mission

As I said earlier, Google is a company that has taken up numerous environmental causes in the past. In addition to its wortk with Aclima, it also teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in 2014 in order to map methane leaking from natural gas local distribution systems.

Last month it announced Project Sunroof a new online tool to help homeowners explore whether they should go solar, and in July it launched the #FutureIsClean initiative: a platform to encourage the world to support the adoption of necessary clean technological solutions.

Overall, the company has spend billions on renewable energy initatives.

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