IoT for Air Quality, Behold the Power of Cooperation

Brad Shimmin - Research Director, Business Technology and Software
Brad Shimmin – Research Director, Business Technology and Software

Summary Bullets:

• There may be no such thing as true altruism, but it’s safe to say that the multifaceted demands of IoT are creating a perfect storm of advantageous cooperation among technology and service providers, data producers and insight consumers.

• Case in point is IoT environmental sensor network vendor Aclima, which is using Google Street View cars to measure pollution levels within key urban areas in California. Aclima’s use case reveals how companies, residents and governments can help one another by sharing facilities, personal and environmental data.

Maybe it’s just the holiday spirit talking, but I think I “almost” believe in altruism. Don’t get me wrong. I remain a card carrying realist. To me, acts of kindness are indeed kind because they happen to benefit both giver and receiver. There’s nothing wrong with that, really. We give because it makes us feel good, because we anticipate some future reward or reciprocation, or because we feel obligated, which is oddly how one feels both giving and receiving a holiday fruitcake.

But giving is good, particularly within the realm of the Internet of Things (IoT). Already vendors have discovered that they cannot go it alone. Device manufacturers and device managers need platform and service providers (and vice versa). And both parties need any host of specialists delivering data acquisition, processing, security, storage and analytics software. Consider Google’s partnership with identity specialist Okta or IBM’s partnership with AT&T. IoT makes for interesting bedfellows. It’s not surprising to discover, then, that the same principle applies to those who consume and/or produce data.

The IoT industry has been talking up the potential value when data collectors turn around and publish some of that collected data. But to date, most efforts appear exploratory as with the 2014 project set up by the city of Chicago to collect and publish a wide array of governmental and environmental sensor feeds. Market driving technology providers like IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, and others are also pushing to eventually create curated, open IoT data repositories that can benefit not just corporate entities but also citizens.

And they’re not alone. There are many smaller players pushing to open up IoT data within urban environments. One vendor worth noting in particular is the Aclima. Based in San Francisco and deeply intertwined with Google as customer, partner and provider. Aclima measures environmental variables throughout numerous Google offices. It also instruments numerous Google Street View cars, which have logged more than 70,000 miles to date since a piloting a program with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 to track air quality in Denver measuring dozens of environmental variables like ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, etc. which affect air quality. Since 2015, the company has also measured air quality in San Francisco, and in 2016 expanded to Los Angeles and the Central Valley in California.

This coming year, Aclima will explore expanding its mobile and stationary networks in other parts of a city’s infrastructure, like traffic lights and city bus fleets. The hope is that by working with government agencies (local and national) to gather public environmental information, it can couple that data with internal data streaming from its corporate facilities customers that are measuring internal environmental variables. Why is this important? Imagine if you could build a data model for urban air quality based on not just streets but the buildings themselves? Now imagine adding people to the mix. It’s only a matter of time with personal air quality sensors becoming more affordable (one open source, open data project to check out is AirCasting). This all sets the stage for a real-time, predictive and highly accurate view of air quality at both the macro and micro level.

Of course that Apollonian outcome would require the full (ahem) altruistic participation of all involved parties. Is this too much to ask? I don’t think so, at least not technologically. I think it only takes a few companies like Aclima and Google to convince a few local governments to establish and fund regional curated, open IoT data repositories specific to mutually beneficial information like air quality. The precedent has been set. The outcome, altruistic or otherwise, is in our hands.

What do you think?

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