FIRST THEY mapped the world’s roads to help drivers get from A to B and house buyers nose around neighbourhoods from the comfort of their armchair. Now Google’s Street View cars are mapping out something that can’t be seen: the levels of pollution affecting air quality.
The technology giant has been working on a new dimension for Street View. The mapping service began in 2007, using thousands of cars fitted with high-powered cameras to pound the world’s roads. The cameras give 360-degree views of the surrounding environment, which are integrated into Google Maps.
Now the Street View cars have been upgraded to detect pollution, with the fitment of sensors that measure nitric oxide, nitric dioxide and black carbon.
Google has used them to map pollution levels in Oakland, California. In a year, its vehicles have completed over 14,000 miles of driving.
The results showed that residents living at intersections, or crossroads, were most at risk of suffering air pollution. Measurements found that those locations were typically five to eight times higher than nearby streets.
Google claims the air-quality data could be used by campaigners and regulators to demand improved road layouts that tackle traffic hotspots.
The US company has also mapped air pollution levels for Los Angeles, the Central Valley and San Francisco Bay Area, and plans to release its findings soon.
The company has not given any indication of when the service could be provided with its UK mapping.
Currently, the UK relies on government-run, fixed position air quality monitoring stations. In the first quarter of this year, a study showed that 26 of the sites recorded air pollution that was in breach of European Union legislation and World Health Organisation guidelines – the highest number for a decade.
Jonathan Grigg, professor of paediatric respiratory and environmental medicine at Queen Mary University of London, and founding member of Doctors Against Diesel, recently told The Times that there was “overwhelming proof” of the harm caused by air pollution, pointing to its links with cancer, asthma, heart disease, dementia and stunting lung-growth in children.