Google opens its Street View air-quality data to scientists

Since 2007, Google has had cars driving around the world, photographing and documenting the scenery as they go.

As well as capturing some unusual sights along the way, since 2012 some Street View cars have been equipped with air pollution sensors, giving them valuable insights on the quality of air we breathe around the world. The sensors can track methane, particulate matter, ozone nitrogen dioxide and more.

Well now Google is ready to share that information with the science community. Specifically data from California’s Bay Area and Central Valley, which contains “140,000 miles and 7000 hours of driving from 2016 through 2018” and can be requested here – though it’s not open to curious civilians at this point.  

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That should be just the beginning, however. “By the end of this year, we’ll equip 50 more Street View cars with the mobile-friendly Aclima Mobile Sensor Node, and hit the road in cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and North and South America,” wrote Google Earth Outreach’s Karin Tuxen-Bettman in a blog post.

“We’ll continue using tools like BigQuery and platforms like the Air Quality Data Commons to share this data with researchers whose work helps policymakers, businesses, and utilities make better decisions around air quality in their cities.”

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It’s a small first step, but it’s clear that Google is thinking big on this one – or at least Tuxen-Bettman is, imagining a world where considering air quality of a route is as easy as checking the weather. “Whenever I go for a bike ride, I use Google Maps to find bike lanes and avoid busy streets,” she wrote. “When I take my kids to the park, I check the weather forecast so I know what to expect. Imagine if we could also see maps of air quality in our neighborhoods, and route ourselves around the pollution for cleaner, healthier bike rides or park visits.”

Hopefully this kind of vision sees an outlet in some Google apps of the future. If the cars have diligently collected this data, it makes sense to use it.

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