Google's long-term goal is to give city planners and individuals more granular information on air pollution in their immediate communities.
Google is equipping some of its Street View cars with an air pollution-sensing platform from environmental sensor network company Aclima to measure air quality levels in various communities in California.
Initially, Google will map air quality levels in communities in the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Central Valley regions. The three areas together account for approximately 38 million people and nearly 30 million registered vehicles. That makes air quality management a top priority for the three regions, Karin Tuxen-Bettman, program manager for Google's Earth Outreach group said in a blog posting
announcing the initiative.
The air quality data Google collects from its Street View cars will be made available to air pollution experts and scientists via Google Earth Engine. The goal is to provide data that will help environmental experts analyze and create air quality models linking air pollution to human health impacts at a local community level.
Most air quality studies and reports are at the city level, rather than at the neighborhood and community level, which is what people really need, Tuxen-Bettman said.
"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," she said. "Bike commuters and outdoor enthusiasts could find the healthiest route for their trips."
Additionally, city planners would be able to pinpoint specific areas within the city where air quality is low and study ways to fix the problem. For example, by changing traffic light patterns, city planners could help reduce air pollution from idling engines, or they could ban or reduce the use of heavy trucks through neighborhoods with poor air quality.
This is not Google's first initiative to help environmental experts measure and analyze air quality. In July, the company partnered with Aclima to map and measure air pollutants in the Denver area
. Using three Street View cars equipped with Aclima's air quality sensors, Google clocked more than 750 hours of drive time and collected more than 150 million data points, which it correlated with data from the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2014, Google teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund
on an initiative to map methane and other natural gas leaks occurring under the streets in major U.S. cities. Since then, Google has launched similar methane mapping projects in several cities, including Indianapolis; Staten Island in New York City; and Boston, a Google spokeswoman said in an email to eWEEK
Google hopes to have more data to share on its various air quality initiatives in early 2016, the spokeswoman added.
Google's long-term vision with its air quality projects is to empower communities and individuals with information that can help them make smarter decisions about their health and their environment, Tuxen-Bettman said. "By putting street-level air quality information overlaid on Google Earth and Google Maps, we're making it more useful and actionable," she said. "And this, we hope, will lead to cleaner air."