How Can We Use AI IoT Devices to Fight Air Pollution

How Can We Use AI IoT Devices to Fight Air Pollution

Every day, billions of people are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. Unfortunately, many lack the tools needed to measure the quality of the air around them, let alone do anything to improve it. AI and IoT technologies are providing advanced and accessible solutions to help make things better, improving the environment, health and well-being of communities.

Here’s how AI and the IoT are making such a huge difference.

Addressing Air Pollution Is Imperative

Research by the World Health Organization estimates that 7 million premature deaths are caused by air pollution annually. It also says 2.4 billion people are exposed to dangerous levels of indoor air pollution every day from poorly vented cooking fires, smoke and fumes. Air pollution can lead to many illnesses, such as lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and pneumonia. 

A Threat to Children’s Health

The impact can be even worse for children and pregnant women, potentially leading to low birth weight, cancer, and even cognitive impairment or neurological diseases. In fact, the American Lung Association reports that children are often more susceptible to air pollution than adults are. This is because kids are growing, raising development risks, and tend to be more active than adults and breathe more air. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage and could set them up for lifelong health woes.

The Uneven Impact of Air Pollution

Children aren’t the only people at increased risk. Research has found that minority and ethnic groups often face higher exposure to polluted air. The same is true for people in economically disadvantaged areas. For instance, a family living in a poor neighborhood below an overpass will breathe much more polluted air than one in a quiet suburb. 

There are numerous types of air pollution, but people in low-income urban areas tend to be at high risk of particulate air pollution exposure, which is often caused by industrial activity. Unfortunately, these socioeconomically disadvantaged groups are usually not in a position to invest large amounts of money into air monitoring and may not be able to move to a healthier location. Air quality tends to take a backseat when things like infrastructure and social programs are crucial everyday concerns. 

Improving Air Quality Monitoring Access

Air Quality Monitoring Access

AI and IoT technologies have incredible potential to help address these issues. Air pollution is a very real threat to public health and the climate. Therefore, air quality monitoring is vital. Without comprehensive data, it is difficult for scientists to get an accurate picture of what air pollution is like worldwide. More information would maximize the potential positive impact of any efforts to improve air quality. 

AI Satellite Imagery Analysis

What if scientists could see exactly where the greatest sources of air pollution are worldwide? AI makes this possible. In 2021, researchers at Duke University developed a method for using machine learning to detect “pollution hotspots” in satellite imagery, down to a city block level. The algorithm is fully autonomous, making it a highly efficient and cost-effective way to measure air pollution sources locally. 

Mike Bergin is a professor of civil engineering at Duke University. He said, “[S]etting up sensor networks is time-consuming and costly, and the only thing that driving a sensor around really tells you is that roads are big sources of pollutants. Being able to find local hotspots of air pollution using satellite images is hugely advantageous.”

The idea with Duke University’s application of AI and satellite imagery is pinpointing the greatest potential areas for air quality improvement. Scientists and local officials can take concrete steps to resolve the problem if they know where the greatest sources are in their communities. For instance, maybe a mayor uses this technology to discover that a local manufacturing plant is producing excessive amounts of particulate air pollution. They could work with the owners to find ways to reduce emissions. 

Personal AI Air Quality Monitors

It would be convenient if everyone had their own air quality monitor that could tell their pollution levels in their location. This sounds like it would be pretty expensive, but one independent developer is changing that. Kutluhan Aktar, a full stack developer, invented an AI weather station that anyone can make using a 3D printer and a few DIY electronics parts. 

Aktar trained an AI neural network using an ozone detector, weather data and local air quality index information. This resulted in an AI model that can predict the air quality in anyone’s area using local weather and ozone data. The project is open source, so anyone can use Aktar’s AI model and 3D printing files to build their own weather station. 

The technology isn’t perfect, but it does represent an important step in the right direction. A key part of fighting air pollution is making access to data more widely available. If everyone had their own affordable AI weather station like this, they could take steps to stay healthy despite contamination. On a day when air quality is bad, a jogger could choose to go to an indoor gym instead of running outside. Actions like these can decrease exposure to air pollution and the risk of associated illnesses. 

Expanding Monitoring Using Drones and IoT

Drone flying over field at sunset

Urban areas are at a much higher risk of having dangerous levels of air pollution. As a result, major cities have gained greater access to air quality monitoring services over recent years. However, that monitoring needs to expand within and outside major metropolitan centers for scientists and world leaders to accurately understand and respond to unhealthy levels. 

Expanding Connectivity With IoT

Accurately monitoring air pollution worldwide is extremely difficult. Researchers are developing methods for applying IoT technology to make these checks more efficient and effective. These devices are incredibly useful for fighting air pollution and go beyond detecting it like a conventional sensor. With IoT air pollution sensors, municipalities, cities and states could create vast interconnected networks delivering live air quality readings. 

Live IoT air pollution data enables local leaders to respond quickly and flexibly. For instance, traffic flow could be adjusted in certain weather or pollution conditions. New infrastructure, such as schools, could be built in areas with cleaner air. Detailed, real-time air pollution data could inform public health policy. 

What’s great about IoT air pollution monitoring is that it is not an emerging technology. This tech exists already, and it can be highly accessible. DIY enthusiasts have even developed an IoT air pollution monitor that’s open source for anyone to make, similar to the AI weather station. AI by itself is constrained to a single network or location, while IoT can greatly expand the range of air pollution monitoring thanks to its connection capabilities. 

Mobile Pollution Surveying

Suppose a construction company wants to measure the air pollution its operations are creating around its work site. However, the site is huge, set up for a massive multitenant development, and there aren’t many safe or convenient places to install IoT air pollution sensors. This is a perfect example of a case where drone air quality monitoring would be extremely useful. 

An international team at MIT is working on developing an effective solution to air pollution using autonomous drones. This technology essentially takes smart air quality monitoring sensors and puts them into a mobile package rather than a stationary device. The team at MIT pointed out that using drones to measure local air quality can help address the lack of monitoring in poorer communities. 

Air pollution monitoring drones could be programmed to autonomously fly along pre-planned routes throughout a certain area, including wealthy and lower-income neighborhoods. This expands access to air pollution monitoring by removing the element of sensor placement. Drones allow towns and cities to measure air quality everywhere. 

Drones also make it possible to effectively monitor air pollution across large swaths of land, even where there may not be many ideal spots to install sensors. The construction site example is one such case. Others include using drones to measure air pollution in potentially hazardous areas, such as mines. Similarly, agriculture professionals could use them to monitor methane emissions around farms and cattle fields. 

Drones equipped with IoT air pollution sensors maximize the range and flexibility of air quality monitoring. They also boost accessibility and equality in different areas. Local leaders could use these benefits to gain a highly detailed idea of neighborhood air pollution, allowing them to make policy decisions based on precise data collected from specific locations. 

Fighting Air Pollution With Technology

Fighting air pollution is largely about giving individuals and communities the tools they need to address it. AI and IoT are becoming instrumental in expanding access to monitoring technology. Tech is today’s greatest tool in the fight for cleaner air, from 3D-printed weather stations to sprawling networks of air pollution sensors. 

Visibility and data from these technologies will provide insights into local sources of air pollution. This opens the door for communities to come together to improve the quality of the air they breathe and reduce contamination. AI and IoT can help people have cleaner, healthier air, improving their health and that of the planet.

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