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Google is Now Mapping Air Quality and Releasing Important Air Pollution Data

July 18, 2017

While many people have grown accustomed to the sight of Google Maps camera cars driving around their neighborhoods, many people are unaware of a new project Google is taking on in a joint effort with sensor company Aclima and the Environmental Defense Fund. In their latest venture, the internet giant is tackling the issue of air pollution by equipping vehicles with special instruments designed to analyze the air we breathe.

They recently deployed four specially equipped Google cars to measure air pollution in the city of Oakland, and the results of those assessments were made public last month. A video supplied by Google shows the cars driving through West Oakland, downtown and East Oakland for a total of 150 days last year. The Aclima air sensors picked up and measured the air from block to block.

The vehicles measuring the data are equipped with special pumps that draw in the air for analysis. Each piece of equipment can range anywhere between $10,000-$100,000. Once collected, the data is being analyzed by researcher Joshua Apte, PhD., at the University of Texas, who has surprisingly found large and consistent differences in air samples captured within a few hundred yards of one another.

According to Apte, “There are blocks in Oakland where one end of the block can be eight times more polluted than the other end of the block.” There are numerous reasons why the air quality samples can vary so significantly from one location to another in such a close proximity. This data will help researchers determine some of the contributing factors to poor air quality.

Steven Hamburg, PhD., the chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, explained the more you know about where the air pollution is coming from, the easier it is to address it. Hamburg stressed, “We need to find the sources of pollution. Not just the highways but the individual sources, the sub-block, the restaurants, the small factories or the small facilities. We really need to be able to see it and understand it. It’s not an abstraction; it’s real, and it’s affecting us.”

The team of researchers and analysts plan to use the Google vehicles to map more cities in the coming months and they intend on deploying hundreds more pollution-analyzing cars within the next couple of years.