An air quality project Google started way back in 2014 is bearing some new fruit, according to an official Google blog post from June 5th. The project builds on top of Google's mapping program and even uses some of the same tools. Its primary aim is to provide people with a street-level readout of pollution and air quality in much the same way somebody might check the weather or traffic for a commute. According to Google, it could not only improve overall health but could also help city planners to build smarter and more sustainable cities. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is yet another area the mapping data could be useful. Amongst things tracked by the program are nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and "black carbon" – which is carbon that is easily distinguishable as being "emitted from cars, trucks, and other sources." Unfortunately, for now, it is only available for select areas of California.
To begin with, the data used to create the maps is drawn in by Google's partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and by Aclima's sensing system. The data represents over 3 million samples from over 14,000 miles from equipment that is included alongside other equipment mounted to the company's Street View fleet. Aclima scientists are responsible for analyzing that data, turning it into something usable. That puts some limitation on areas where Google can really dig into the project and, as of this writing, Oakland, California is the first data set being shared using this air quality mapping technology, but Google and Aclima will share air quality maps for Los Angeles, San Francisco, and California's Central Valley communities later this year.
Google chose Oakland, in particular, because of its specific location with regards to the surrounding highways other local pollutant sources. More additions may be difficult, partially due to Google's reliance on its own Street View cars for data. However, with help from the EDF, and particularly if other agencies become involved, it should be easy to spread to larger cities, urban areas, and suburbs at very least – raising the air quality awareness and potentially improving it for millions in a substantial way. Google appears more than ready to take on that challenge.