Mobile air quality monitors: more coverage, more data - Kunak
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Mobile Air Quality Monitors: More Data For Better Informed Decisions

Mobile air quality monitors
Reading time 5 min

    HIGHLIGHTS

  • Vehicle-based air quality monitoring makes it possible to obtain hyperlocal data.
  • The data collected by our Kunak Air Mobile station is extremely reliable thanks to the special design of the protective housing.
  • The implementation of this solution makes it possible to complement reference monitoring networks, overcoming the spatial limits of stationary equipment.

Measure, measure, measure.

You are almost bound to have heard a similar mantra in recent times. It is indeed a variation of the WHO recommendation for mass testing to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Only this time, we have adapted it for our own convenience. That is, air quality.

After all, viruses and air pollution are pandemics whose effects must be minimised. And the best way to remedy them is to have data that help to make decisions. Medical tests make it possible to check whether the measures imposed are having any effect; portable air quality monitors provide an overview of the environmental conditions.

Why mobile air quality monitors should be given a chance

For the purposes of this article, mobile air quality monitors are systems for measuring environmental pollution on the move. Installed on support vehicles (buses, delivery vans, etc.), they monitor air quality during journeys, enabling hyperlocal air quality data to be obtained.

However, it should be pointed out that these solutions are not comparable to the mobile units used by different public administrations. After all, as was explained in our blog, the stations that we offer at Kunak are not yet a replacement for reference equipment. Still, they are highly reliable, and its accuracy has been proven by comparative studies and pilot tests.

That said, air quality monitoring using mobile sensors, such as our Kunak Air Mobile, is an option with the following benefits:

  • Collect data based on regular journeys or preset routes that make it possible to observe time and seasonal variations.
  • Complement the information collected by fixed air quality networks, especially in areas with scarce or non-existent records.
  • Extend monitoring coverage at a lower cost than reference equipment.
  • Generate more reliable air quality prediction models thanks to increased data availability.
  • Detect pollution hot spots on which to act.
  • Collect detailed measurements of different pollutants. Our system, for example, can be equipped with sensors that detect
    • carbon monoxide (CO);
    • nitrogen oxides (NOx);
    • ozone (O3);
    • sulphur dioxide (SO2);
    • hydrogen sulphide (H2S), and
    • suspended particles (PM1, PM2.5 and PM10).

Are the data from these vehicles with mobile sensors reliable for measuring air quality?

The answer is a resounding ‘yes’, at least as far as the Kunak Air Mobile is concerned.

Pilot projects such as the City Scanner by MIT Senseable City Lab showed that aspects such as vehicle suspension or acceleration can alter measurements (1).

But Kunak Air Mobile’s protective housing is designed to minimise these problems. This avoids solar radiation and also protects the sensors from the effects of humidity, air currents and pressure changes.

Four case studies to convince you of the validity of measuring air quality in motion

At Kunak we believe that these types of innovations to which we are fully committed to are best explained through case studies. So let’s show you four international initiatives that make use of mobile air quality monitors.

The Budapest-Bamako Rally, providing air quality data in remote areas

The Budapest (Hungary)-Bamako (Sierra Leone) rally is one of those epic adventures that is a half competition, half charity challenge that takes up part of the original route of the Paris-Dakar Rally. Along its more than 8,000-kilometre route, it crosses countries such as Morocco, Mauritania or Senegal and regions where infrastructure for monitoring air quality is scarce or non-existent.

The 2020 edition, held during the month of February, featured a team sponsored by the company MCV that set up a Kunak Air on the off-road vehicle. The station, subjected to the rigours of the weather and the harshness of the test, was more than a match for the challenge, sending back air quality data throughout the journey.

Bpost, air quality measuring from delivery vehicle fleets

Belgian Post Group (Bpost) is Belgium’s leading mail delivery company, with a presence in Europe, North America and Asia and a total of 36,000 employees worldwide.

Their vans are being used by Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC) in Antwerp to test the reliability of our Kunak Air Mobile stations. The results, among other milestones, are paving the way to the development of more accurate air quality models and the analysis of the incidence of traffic and nearby industries on atmospheric conditions.

Thus, Jelle Hofman, one of the researchers at this Belgian centre, recently admitted the positive assessment of Kunak’s innovative solutions as well as its cloud-based analysis and calibration tools.

On 9 March 2021, IMEC, in collaboration with other Belgian entities, organised a technical conference in which Jelle Hofman himself showed some of the results of the project, as can be seen in the attached presentation.

City Scanner, refuse collection trucks can also have other features

City Scanner, as mentioned above, is a pilot project promoted by the MIT Senseable City Lab.

This initiative, located in the city of Cambridge (Massachusetts – US), has used refuse collection trucks as a support for different types of sensors. The aim is to monitor the spatio-temporal variations of environmental variables, paying special attention to suspended particles or temperature and humidity.

Transit Express, the light rail train that promotes sustainable mobility and serves as a measuring platform

The Transit Express is a light rail train that connects Salt Lake City with its surrounding suburbs. Utah’s capital city’s metropolitan area, home to more than 1.2 million people, regularly has some of the worst air quality indexes in the United States.

In 2014, researchers from Utah University placed sensors on the roofs of trains that covered the three lines that make up the service. The variables to be monitored included nitrogen dioxide, ozone, suspended particles, methane and CO2 (2).

In the words of Logan Mitchell, research assistant professor and architect of the ongoing project, ‘by putting an instrument on a mobile platform, you’re able to get a lot more coverage. It’s equivalent to installing a whole network [of traditional air quality monitors] and…it’s a lot more cost effective’. This cost-effectiveness, specific to the present case, is a result of the monitoring equipment used: each mobile station costs $40,000, but is capable of capturing the same data as 30 fixed instruments, which would cost over $1 million to install.

Air quality measurements during a high ozone episode. Source: Mendoza et al., 2019 (3)

Conclusion

Mobile air quality monitors make it possible to overcome the spatial limits implied by fixed measurements. As previously explained, these solutions make it possible to extend the geographic monitoring coverage, increase the data available to create more accurate models, or detect pollution hotspots that require attention.

It is also an extremely versatile solution that can be adapted to multiple means of transport, ranging from bicycles, an option that was demonstrated during the 2020 European Mobility Week , to buses or, as in the case of Belgium, delivery vans.

Air pollution is, like SARS-COV-2, a pandemic. But we have tools at our disposal to collect data and make informed decisions to correct deviations. In short, we have the necessary mechanisms to avoid greater evils. Prevention is, after all, cheaper than cure.

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Sources consulted:

  • (1) Anjomshoaa, A., Duarte, F., Rennings, D., Matarazzo, T., deSouza, P., & Ratti, C. (2018). City Scanner: building and scheduling a mobile sensing platform for smart city services. IEEE Internet Of Things Journal, 5(6), 4567-4579https://doi.org/10.1109/jiot.2018.2839058
  • (2) Mallia, D., Mitchell, L., Kunik, L., Fasoli, B., Bares, R., & Gurney, K. et al. (2020). Constraining urban CO2 emissions using mobile observations from a light rail public transit platform. Environmental Science & Technology, 54(24), 15613-15621https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c04388
  • (3) Mendoza, D., Crosman, E., Mitchell, L., Jacques, A., Fasoli, B., & Park, A. et al. (2019). The TRAX light-rail train air quality observation project. Urban Science, 3(4), 108. https://doi.org/10.3390/urbansci3040108