Google has recently partnered with Aclima, a San Francisco based startup that makes environmental sensors. The Google Earth Outreach program is using these sensors to track pollution levels in cities, adding to existing regional data done by the EPA. For over a year, Google has used Aclima sensors on their Street View vehicles, starting with three cars in Denver, Colorado, which collected over 150 million points of air quality data during a month. The sensors measure for hazardous chemicals such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and black carbon.
This is data that simply is not sufficiently available at the moment, and there are many way to apply it beneficially. Aclima aims to make this information easily and widely available to all. If citizens have a better idea of the air quality levels in their cities, they can make informed decisions, while local governments will have both a better understanding of problem areas, and of how urban pollution works. Aclima founder David Herzl points out how useful this data can be to city planners: “If we can know where pollution hotspots are, we can know where to put green spaces” – planting trees in areas of high NO2 pollution to absorb the hazardous chemicals.
When it comes to Google’s use of this added feature, the inclusion of Aclima sensors may help sell their self-driving cars, which could be directed away from intersections with high levels of pollution. They could also incorporate the data in Google Maps, directing cars away from heavily polluted streets to avoid increasing the problem, and rerouting pedestrians to less hazardous areas.
After their initial test in Denver, Google is now planning to scale up, using Aclima sensors for a larger data collection in the Bay area of California.