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Mobile air quality monitoring with IoT

Cities and towns use fixed air quality monitoring apparatus to measure pollution levels in a given location. IoT technology and mobile air quality monitoring reduces cost, increases coverage and provides much higher levels of flexibility when compared to traditional, fixed solutions.

Fixed monitoring stations measure air quality to extremely high levels of accuracy, with some gases measured in parts per billion (ppb). By their very nature, fixed monitoring stations only measure air pollution and particulates in one location.

High-accuracy test equipment comes at a price, which makes it difficult for a council or local authority to achieve coverage of an entire town or population centre. To do so would require several hundred fixed monitoring stations – which would command a significant investment and a level of ongoing maintenance.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Developments in IoT technology has introduced a range of comparatively inexpensive air-quality and pollution sensors. While many low-end IoT sensors lack the high-degrees of accuracy that fixed stations provide, they still offer a good indication of air quality and pollution.

Rather than measuring gases in parts-per-billion (ppb), think more along the lines of a traffic light system (red=bad, amber=warning, green=ok). With particulates – which is a vital component of the air quality index (AQI) – IoT sensors are just as accurate and a fraction of the price.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a standard for measuring and indicating air quality and pollution levels.

Communications

IoT sensors can automatically send data back to the cloud using several different technologies. The most common method would be using 3G/4G SIM cards, or in many areas, the sensors may be able to use LoRa – a low powered wireless solution. Many areas of the British Isles have already deployed LoRa networks, notably Scotland – which has an ambitious strategy for LoRa coverage. A LoRa or 4G network serves as an excellent enabler for mobile air quality monitoring.

How can mobile air quality monitoring work?

IoT - Mobile Air Quality Monitoring
The MTG vehicle takes air quality measurements every minute, before transmitting the data back to the cloud.

We have trialled mobile air quality monitoring in the Isle of Man – using the Island as an initial base for tech trials. We build our IoT mobile air quality solution using the following components:

Sensors

Cloud Platform

  • Data was transmitted to Azure IoT using Libelium Cloud Bridge.
  • Visualisation, dashboards and analysis using a range of custom software, databases and off-the-shelf tools such as Tableau.

What is the case for mobile air quality monitoring?

Isle of Man AQI Map
Example of mobile monitoring in the Isle of Man. >100km2

The answer is simple – local authorities and councils can rapidly assess air-quality across vast areas of their area. While this will not deliver laboratory-grade results, the IoT sensors will provide a good indication of air quality across large areas.

Not only will this give policy-makers a high-level view of the area in heat-map form, but it may highlight areas that require more focused measurement. All measurements taken by the system include GPS coordinates and time-stamps so that data can be analysed by time-of-day, location and cross-referenced against weather data.

  1. Greater Coverage. IoT solutions allow you to measure quality over vast expanses, with no additional cost relating to staff or measurement overhead.
  2. Reduced Cost. IoT air quality and pollution sensors are cost-effective alternatives to fixed stations and can form part of any holistic environmental management solution.
  3. Identify pollution hotspots and problem areas. With expansive coverage, the system may identify anomalies or pollution hotspots that may warrant further investigation.
  4. Shape policy and decision making. Data arms decision and policymakers. Town planners, population health, education leaders and transport managers can use air quality data to shape and develop policy, and influence decision making.
  5. Improve outcomes. Poor air quality and pollution levels have been linked to several health conditions and life expectancy. Measuring air quality is the first part of the solution.
  6. Open Government. Many bodies choose to publicly share air quality information with their residents and businesses. This promotes transparency and garners support from people to support positive environmental change and help tackle the climate issue.

What is the best way of deploying IoT air quality solutions?

Vehicles with air quality monitoring
The mobile air quality solution can be fitted to any organisation or council vehicle.

In a local authority setting; sensors are fitted to bin lorries, local authority vehicles, public transport or any other commercial vehicle. Many local authority vehicles, depending on their function, will cover vast areas of population centres.

  • Bin lorries and refuse vehicles tend to visit most residential addresses – providing an extensive mapping of air quality.
  • Local authority vehicles can double up as mobile air quality monitors.
  • School buses are another prime candidate, measuring air quality levels throughout residential areas and school settings.

Many cities are striving for Smart City status – often focused around ISO 37122 – where air quality forms a vital part of the equation.

What can be measured?

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) [Calibrated] (low and high concentrations)
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) [Calibrated]
  • Molecular Oxygen (O2) [Calibrated]
  • Ozone (O3) [Calibrated]
  • Nitric Oxide (NO) [Calibrated] (low concentrations)
  • Nitric Dioxide (NO2) [Calibrated]
  • Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) [Calibrated] (high accuracy)
  • Ammonia (NH3) [Calibrated] (low and high concentrations)
  • Methane (CH4) [Calibrated] – and other combustible gases
  • Molecular Hydrogen (H2) [Calibrated
  • Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) [Calibrated]
  • Hydrogen Chloride (HCl) [Calibrated]
  • Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) [Calibrated]
  • Phosphine (PH3) [Calibrated]
  • Ethylene Oxide (ETO) [Calibrated]
  • Chlorine (Cl2) [Calibrated]
  • Particle Matter (PM1 / PM2.5 / PM10) – Dust Sensor
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Atmospheric pressure
  • Luminosity (Luxes Accuracy) for Smart Lighting
  • Ultrasound (distance measurement)

Find out more

Manx Technology Group is still developing the technology and analysing data sets, but the system is ready for commercial deployment and further development. If your council, local authority or organisation would like to undertake mobile air quality testing – please get in touch. You can reach us by phone +44 1624 777837, e-mail or by submitting a form on our website.

Further Reading

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Joe Hughes is the CEO of Manx Technology Group. Joe has a background in software development, information security, networks, datacentres and enterprise IT.
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