Air Pollution Crisis: The Answer May Lie in IoT

Here's why Governments of various countries are waking up to this opportunity and investing in IoT-led air quality solutions

By Dr Abhay Kumar • Mar 15, 2019


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The recent crisis in Delhi showed how major a threat to air pollution is. Most people don't know that it is the world's fourth-largest fatal health risk. Most Indian cities now have poor air quality –which can lead to asthma attacks, lung cancer, heart disease or chronic bronchitis. In fact, the World Health Organisation has pointed out that India is home to 20 million asthma patients. One of the greatest obstacles in air quality control is the lack of accurate monitoring. Unless the extent of pollution is understood, figuring out ways to control it will remain out of reach.

The New Revolution

The Internet of Things (IoT) can help us tackle this issue. Today, low-power wide area (LPWA) networks have enabled the development of portable and cheap sensors. These sensors are attached to streetlights, public benches and even people to measure and report air quality with great precision.

These readings are then crunched using analytics and data sets such as traffic volume to add layers and eventually understand air quality levels, which is causing pollution and the most dangerous times during the day. Governments of various countries are waking up to this opportunity and investing in IoT-led air quality solutions. Chongqing in China, for example, reached out to China Mobile to explore how connected sensors could improve air monitoring.

In Other Countries

In South Korea, the government has launched the "Air Map Korea Project' that aims to log expansive data via monitors installed on 4.5 million telephone poles, 330,000 mobile base stations, 60,000 public phone booths and 4,000 central offices. These LPWA sensors will measure fine dust, volatile organic compounds, noise and humidity levels. Such sensors, combined with developments in IoT, can transform cities. Once armed with the data, cities can provide prevention advice to citizens and plan sustainably for growth.

However, India is yet to absorb such technological development. While accurate data is hard to get, a survey published by "Lancet Planetary Health' said that, in 2017, 12 lakh deaths could be attributed to air pollution. This amounts to one in eight deaths – from any cause – across the country. Worldwide, the WHO said more than 70 lakh people fall victim to air pollution. Not surprising when 91per cent of the global population lives in places where air quality is a serious concern.

IoT at a Personal Level

Therefore, the time has come to use the IoT not just at the governmental level but also at a personal level. Since government data isn't always available, it becomes difficult to reckon the quality of air in one's locality. However, there are now personal air monitoring devices that work in tandem with an app. These devices take readings around you and combine them with information from other users' sensors to provide real-time information on pollution levels. They can tell which areas are heavily polluted, the worst times to go out, etc.

This shows how IoT – the personal sensors are a classic example of it – can monitor and combat pollution. Data from hundreds of thousands of users and other installed sensors will be invaluable in the fight for cleaner air. Given the scale of the problem and the potential of the technology, it's only a matter of time before IoT-based devices and solutions become the norm.

Dr Abhay Kumar

Chief Scientific Officer, Eureka Forbes Limited

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