Air quality mapped in detail by Project Air View

Google donated two Project Air View cars to Utrecht University a year ago. With these ‘Air View’ cars, the quality of air in cities can be mapped down to street level. Jules Kerckhoffs of Utrecht University coordinates these projects and is responsible for processing the data. He talks about his experiences.

“As Junior Assistant Professor, I work with a team from the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS) at Utrecht University on mapping and predicting air pollution. Using the Air View cars we have an innovative tool to measure pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, soot and ultrafine dust whilst driving. We started in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, have now also driven in Basel and Barcelona and will soon go to Munich and Augsburg.

Detailed air quality maps for an entire city

This method of mobile data monitoring on a large scale is quite innovative. Because we drive eight hours a day for a longer period and take measurements every second, we collect an immense amount of data that can be used to produce detailed air quality maps. The measuring equipment is of laboratory quality and the monitor for ultrafine dust is particularly expensive, and so bulky that removing the back seats of the cars was necessary. As you can’t put them on every street corner, cities have between three to ten measuring stations of the same quality.

“You can’t simply scroll through an excel file with millions of data points to see if there are any mistakes.”

What cities do with our results depends on their own objectives. In the projects I work with various partners to find useful applications. There is of course a substantial interest from area developers, but municipal health centres, private companies and scientists also work with the maps we produce. For example, an app based on our data can be used to provide advice on healthy walking and cycling routes. In Copenhagen they decided to plant hedges in locations with poor air quality to serve as buffers between the street and the pavement. Scientists use our data to study the link between air quality and, for example, mortality. Residents can also consult public maps to find the best route between home and work.

Millions of data points per day

My specialty is mainly data technology. This ranges from data collection and determining varied driving routes, to storing, filtering, analyzing and processing data. With a data set of millions of data points per day, this is not an easy task. You cannot simply scroll through an Excel file to see if it contains any errors.

Expanding into Europe and beyond

What I like about this work is that I can deliver something tangible very quickly. Carrying out epidemiological research isn’t necessary to say something about healthy urban living; this doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t do that research.  These methods complement one another. It is the same with mobile monitoring as opposed to stationary monitoring. With the former method a large area can be covered. My ultimate goal is to use mobile monitoring to develop a European map, particularly for ultrafine dust. For this we need to measure in yet more European cities. Looking at the growing interest in Project Air View I expect that this will be feasible. In any case, my scripts and the cars are ready for it!”

Would you like to learn more about Project Air View? Take a look at the air quality map developed for Copenhagen and Amsterdam by Jules or read the first scientific paper, which was recently published online.