Artificial Intelligence: How Technology Can Help Stop Air Pollution

Create: 01/23/2017 - 18:12

We’ve all either seen pictures of cities shrouded in smog or actually been somewhere where it was difficult to breathe because of all of the pollution in the air.

We’re all aware that much of that air pollution comes from factories, vehicles, power plants and the like. In other words, it comes from industry and technology.

We tend to think of technology as a cause of pollution, but what if it could also help stop it? As it turns out, it can. Innovate companies all around the world are coming up with new ways to use technology to address the growing air pollution problem.

The Health Effects of Pollution According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), outdoor air pollution has risen eight percent in the last five years. Fast-growing cities in developing countries had the worst air quality, but the problem affects all types of cities all around the planet.

The issue is not one we can just brush off either. Air pollution has serious health consequences and could cause more 3 million premature deaths a year, a number expected to grow with time.

Breathing dirty air can have both short- and long-term health effects. It degrades the health of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and asthma.

Clearly, the issue of air pollution is one we have to address. And technology can help with that.

Gathering air Quality Data

Acquiring more data on air quality helps us effectively address the issue. Smart sensors, machine learning, forecasting tools and other technologies can all be used to gather this vital information. Social enterprise AirVisual collects air quality data from satellite imagery and air quality monitors run by governments and the company itself. The company presents all of this information — as well as historical and forecast data — in an online interactive map.

Gathering data about specific sources of pollution can help deduce how exactly to cut back on emissions. In 2008, volunteers in New York City put on backpacks armed with sensors and walked the streets measuring air quality levels. The results showed that the city’s buildings were much bigger contributors than transportation.

Data from smart sensors can help improve the efficiency of energy infrastructure as well. Pipes outfitted with sensors can report gas leaks. Adding smart technology to the electric grid also increases the amount of data utilities collect about energy usage.

Clearing the Air

All of this data is great, but what exactly can we do with it?

After the volunteers in New York City detected that buildings were the main source of the city’s pollution, New York’s governor enacted a program to help building owners switch to cleaner energy. This eventually led to cleaner air.

It could take a long time before anyone even realizes that there’s a leak in a gas pipe. Utilizing smart sensors can alert utility companies to problems immediately, leading to faster damage repair and less pollution leaked into the atmosphere.

By adding smart technology to the energy grid, we can optimize energy distribution, so that nothing is wasted. Smart thermostats can learn when to reduce heating, and smart appliances can reduce energy usage when they’re not needed. Improvements in renewable energy technology are making energy usage less polluting overall.

Governments can use air quality data and forecasts, such as the information from AirVisual, to alert people when air quality is bad and advise them to wear masks, avoid certain areas or take other precautions. Based on air quality forecasts, governments and business can also adjust emissions levels to ensure that the air stays at a healthy level.

Air quality data has already been used to reduce pollution, but the innovation is just getting started. With the Internet of Things (IoT) beginning to take root, we’ll soon have much more data than we have currently. The cost of clean energy solutions like solar is also dropping, while their efficiency and popularity are on the rise.

We’ve come up with lots of exciting new solutions, but cities around the world still have a lot of work to do before their air quality reaches the level recommended by WHO. Air pollution increased in the past few years, but some estimates say that the market for air quality monitoring will grow by about eight and a half percent over the next five years. Hopefully, through conservation, innovation and other means, people around the world will be able to breath cleaner, healthier air.

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