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Air quality matters. The World Health Organization estimates that there has been an 8% rise in air pollution in recent years, with poorer cities experiencing the most deterioration. Over 91% of people now breathe air polluted with noxious gases and particulates, mostly from fossil fuel combustion.
Air pollution is the fourth leading risk factor for deaths worldwide. There were an estimated 10.2 million deaths related to airborne particulates in 2012, namely PM2.5. A total of 62% of these premature deaths were in China (3.9 million) and India (2.5 million) where pollution is high, with the rest located in parts of the eastern US, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
Good air quality is crucial to health; what we breathe in can impact all areas of our health, from heart and lung disease to diabetes and damaged skin. A recent study highlighted air pollution’s role in increasing the risk of stroke, dementia, heart disease, and chronic respiratory disease. Children are particularly vulnerable as their lungs are still developing.
Improving Air Quality
The first step towards improving air quality is to gather data about its status; this can help improve our understanding of the health risks and determine what action can be taken to repair it.
Cleantech startup Airly Inc. aims to address the air quality crisis through the use of a sensor and software platform. The company has deployed a network of 4,000 sensors located in more than 25 countries worldwide to help increase understanding and awareness of air pollution. Furthermore, Airly has secured $3.3 million in investments to expand its artificial intelligence air quality platform.
Airly’s AI Algorithms
Airly’s mission is to help governments, companies, and individuals reduce air pollution globally. Its environmental intelligence platform uses sensors to measure the levels of particulate matter – specifically PM1, PM2.5, and PM10 - and gases such as NO2, O3 SO2, and CO in the local surroundings to create an ultra-local, accurate prediction of air quality.
The company's plug-and-play devices measure air quality every five minutes. Particulates are measured using a laser method, while gases use an electrochemical method, with a special light diode that changes color to indicate current air quality. Data is sent to the cloud remotely for calibration and interpretation, with the AI-driven algorithms predicting air pollution for the next 24 hours with up to 95% verifiability.
“Polluted air is a plague on our health - it’s like a pandemic in slow motion,” says Wiktor Warchałowski, Airly’s CEO and co-founder. “Improving air quality needs to be at the core of the world’s post-pandemic rebuild and Airly is the first step to pollution-free cities.”
The platform acts as an early warning system for pollution at street level - real-time data can alert users to high pollution levels so they can take action to minimize health risks.
Airly counts more than 600 governments and cities as customers, including Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Oslo, and corporate companies such as Virgin, PwC, and Veolia. They have over 20,000 data points and over 2 million users. The company’s expansion will see them open offices in the UK and the US.
“With this funding, we can expand our global footprint to support even more cities, enterprises and communities to repair the air and empower them with data and actionable insights,” states Warchałowski.
Their research and development department is also partnering with mobility companies to roll out sensor-equipped cars and scooters to track air quality with higher resolution.
Governments are able to control fossil fuel combustion to limit the volume of particulates and noxious gases released into the atmosphere. The banning of such practices and the encouragement of cleaner, renewable energy can help improve air quality, with relatively immediate results.
The use of a sensor network and software such as Airly’s can help monitor the quality of the air, and acts as an early warning system, alerting users of high levels of pollution that can have adverse effects on humans, wildlife, and the environment.
References and Further Reading
Airly Inc. (2021), Airly raises $3.3m from marquee tech investors to address the air quality health crisis, Cision PR Newswire, https://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/airly-raises-3-3m-from-marquee-tech-investors-to-address-the-air-quality-health-crisis-870263606.html. Accessed 30th March 2021.
Airly, Air Quality Sensors, https://airly.org/en/products/airly-sensor/. Accessed 30th March 2021.
Vohra, K. et al (2021), Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion: Results from GEOS-Chem, Environmental Research, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2021.110754. Accessed 30th March 2021.