IoT’s impact on cities? - better air quality and greater wellbeing

The ability to measure air quality in a more cost-efficient and intelligent way will prove crucial to increase wellbeing among citizens as cities compete in the new age of the internet of things

Rapid growth in urban populations has accelerated the evolution of smart cities and the technologies that enable them, including the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing. Today, more than 55% of the world’s population lives in cities and this is expected to rise to 68% by 2050. In Europe, the figure is already greater than 74%.

To compete on the global stage, cities have had to digitise to meet the ever-increasing demands of their inhabitants for resources and services. A key point of differentiation amidst this rise of smart cities is guaranteeing the maximum level of wellbeing to citizens. First and foremost, wellbeing concerns our physical health, which starts with the quality of air we all breathe.

Reducing air pollution is a health emergency. Countless studies have linked poor air quality to increased mortality and lung disease, and reduced particulate pollution to better public health. But although the air quality situation is urgent, gradual progress has been made and there is still time for cities to take action. An American Cancer Society study in 2009 found the 2.7-year increase in US life expectancy between 1989 and 2000 was strongly linked to reduced PM2.5 air pollution during that period.

Accurate, transparent data is now essential to improving air quality in cities further, empowering citizens with permanent access to real-time insights that drive better decisions for their health and wellbeing. To achieve this, cities need a more complete map of air quality. The more air quality measuring points, the more accurate information they can collect and ultimately share.

Though this may sound simple, the way air quality is traditionally measured presents barriers. Cities typically have several ultra-high-performance air quality measurement stations called ‘reference stations’ which are, in effect, small chemical laboratories. While the measurements are high in quality, the stations are very expensive to acquire and operate, requiring manual collection of samples and weighing the micrograms of particulate matter on a precision balance.

“The economic and operational challenges associated with reference stations are so prohibitive that many cities cannot viably deploy enough of them to achieve high spatial granularity,” says Alicia Asín, CEO of Libelium, which designs and manufactures wireless sensor network devices for reliable IoT and smart city solutions. “Thanks to IoT, however, cities now have a better option.”

The challenges associated with reference stations are so prohibitive that many cities cannot viably deploy enough of them

Libelium has designed an air quality station that offers high performance at a much lower price. This station measures the five most important pollutant gases as well as particulate matter, weather conditions and noise levels. But it does more than just collect data. Thanks to AI and machine learning algorithms, simply placing a smart air quality station next to a traditional reference station enables it to share the data with other air quality stations in different parts of the city.

“One of our mantras as a company is ‘behind the change, beyond the challenge’,” says Asín. “Libelium has been designing and developing smart technology for cities for more than 15 years, even before this technology was called the internet of things. This has allowed us to be behind the change, driving the crucial digitisation and intellectualisation of many public and private companies as well as cities. But we always want to go beyond the challenge too.”

In the context of air quality, Libelium sees an opportunity to go beyond the challenge by utilising IoT and AI innovation to suggest or even automate regulations, permits and bans based on its data. For instance, if the data shows air pollution in a part of a city exceeds regulations or healthy limits, Libelium believes it will be able to send notifications to vehicle owners so that they can avoid entering that area, and redirect them to other parking areas with free spaces.

“Since Libelium develops IoT technology in other verticals, such as smart water, waste management or parking, our solutions can build a complete smart city,” Asín adds. “This is what cities will increasingly compete on. We are in a green revolution where governments are finally leading a new sustainability paradigm. We are a priority partner on the road to a new economy.”

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