Clean air is crucial for us, however, the significance of it will rise in the future
Air is essential for our daily survival - it is more important than food or water for us. As urbanisation processes, more and more people and industries are moving into the cities, which has an impact on urban air quality. Forecasts predict that the world population will increase from seven billion to almost ten million by 2050 of which almost seventy percent will live in cities. This clearly shows the increased importance to focus on air quality in urban areas. Actually, the air quality is already low in many areas: ninety-two percent of the world population lives in cities which fail to meet the World Health Organization's air quality guidelines. Thus, there is already a severe urgency to improve the air we breathe, which in the near future is likely to intensify even more.
Effects of bad air
Most affected of air pollution are quick-growing cities, however, the problem has effects to all sorts of cities within the EU as well as around the globe. According to the World Health Organization, the global air pollution rose up to eight percent within the last five years, which is an incremental increase. A fact that draws more attention to the topic is the serious health issues caused by bad air. Every year, more than seven million people die as a consequence of air pollution, which equals to one out of eight deaths worldwide.
Technologies - cause or rescue
Numerous information about smog and air pollution is provided in the news, with pollution being a result of, for example, factories, vehicles and power plants. Stating it differently: pollution comes from technology and industry. We tend to think of technology mainly as a cause for air pollution but what if we use it to improve the current situation, what if technology can rescue our air quality?
New technologies boost smart cities
Digital technologies act as a catalyst leading to an urban transformation and making cities more smart, efficient and liveable. By generating, processing and linking information, situations can be monitored, assessed and tackled. In this way, urban challenges like traffic, pollution and infrastructure can be addressed to further develop smart cities. The aim of smart cities is to increase the life quality for visitors as well as citizens by establishing smart solutions, e.g. to improve air quality. In doing so, smart cities add value to the inhabitants, economy and ecosystem.
Open Data and Artificial Intelligence - the future solution for Smart Cities
Artificial intelligence is one of the promising technologies that support (smart) cities to address their future challenges. Technological advances and the availability of (Open) Data are the key ingredients for the recent global Artificial Intelligence (AI) boom and enable the next wave of Intelligent Automation across all industries and functions. Andrew Ng, professor at Stanford University, stated: "just as electricity transformed almost everything 100 years ago, today, I actually have a hard time thinking of an industry that I don't think AI will transform in the next several years".
The combination of Open Data and AI may bring a solution to reduce pollution in (smart) cities. With Open Data, it is possible to compare the air quality of countries as well as cities across Europe and derive measures from that. Moreover, Open Data helps to draw more attention to the issue and to raise awareness for the current situation as well as the negative impacts from low air quality. Access to Open Data is, for example, provided on the European Data Portal. By re-using this Open Data, AI can gain insights and solutions from the data faster and more efficiently than solely human intelligence could. Therefore, the combination of Open Data and AI is most valuable and offers multiple fields of action.
AI can support cities regarding clean air in multiple ways
As the figure below displays, AI can improve air pollution within cities regarding filtering and capture, monitoring and prevention, clean fuels and early warning.
Software, which includes AI already helps cities to improve their air quality
The following two use cases show, how AI helps to improve the air quality.
The quality of air can vary on a day to day basis due to several factors such as traffic congestion, weather or industry activities. Via a specific software that makes use of AI, air pollution can be tracked. Furthermore, it connects real-time data from weather and traffic and allows to predict and simulate data for certain regions in which sensors have not been installed yet. At the end of the analysis, the software generates a map, showing real-time pollution values and providing information about the air quality. This data can then be reused to reduce traffic in certain areas or to lead local companies to implement additional filters. Additionally, the gathered data can be used for climate studies in order to gather further insight.
AI allows better predictions
Currently, IBM tests a computer system which includes AI. The underlying data is collected via air pollution sensors, for example, traffic or satellite data. This data is crunched with AI, better to say, cognitive computing as well as predictive analytics. Through machine learning, the system learns to predict the air pollution's severity a few days in advance by using this huge data set. After data gathering, the data is mapped to one model, in which physical and chemical parameters are included and combined. Based on past experience, the machine learns to find the ideal parameter combination. The AI component in this model enables better results than the two separate models could reach without the intelligent combination. Thus, this software sees patterns where human intelligence only sees chaos. With the software results, it is possible to provide high-resolution forecasts of air quality one-by-one-kilometre, three to ten days in advance. The advantage of this solution is that, based on the analysis of the data scenarios (what if), respective actions can be undertaken, for example, traffic control or production limits in order to reduce emissions.
So, the Internet of Things generates data that, if processed by AI, acts like a highly efficient monitor for the environment and improves the forecast quality using cognitive capability as well as machine learning. Although cities tend to become smarter through such technology, we are still at the beginning of the path with an uncertain but promising future. Open Data an AI support the transformation of traditional industries and systems to address climate change and cleaner air. Therefore, it is only the beginning of an age of new opportunities and possibilities supporting to generate cleaner air in smart cities.
Read more about Open Data and Clean air on the European Data Portal.