• IoT
  • Advanced Sensors
  • Air Quality Monitoring
  • smart cities

The IoT Revolution Is Yielding More Meaningful Air Quality Data

Grant Samms
Dec 30, 2019

Connected City 5

Smaller, better, faster, cheaper. That’s the promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) sensor revolution. What previously cost tens of thousands of dollars now may cost only a few hundred. This reduction in cost is especially beneficial for issues where high resolution data is needed.

Air quality monitoring is a prime example of an issue benefiting from the proliferation of sensors. Historically, air quality readings have been taken by massive machines costing thousands of dollars, and cities may only have one or two such units due to this cost. It has been shown, however, that air quality can change dramatically over just a few blocks. Though these large units are more accurate, they do not tell enough of a city’s air quality story. The IoT sensor revolution is providing inexpensive units that give a higher resolution picture of local air quality. That level of data can make a smart city’s policy more effective and make citizens more engaged.

Affordable Sensors Lead to Innovative Deployments

Cities are deploying IoT air quality sensors in a variety of formats to better understand the sources of air quality problems and communicate with citizens. The Mexico City Metropolitan Area has been using a network of smaller sensors for nearly two decades to better inform air quality policies. In 2019, London launched an advanced air quality network featuring 100 IoT sensors, two Google Street View cars equipped with mobile sensors, and a few units affixed to bikeshare bikes.

Access to air quality sensors has become simple enough that concerned citizen groups can bootstrap their own sensor networks. Citizens for Clean Air, a non-profit in western Colorado, did so when they became concerned about unhealthy air from industrial and other sources. Its network of 30 $250 PurpleAir stations aids in the non-profit's stated goals of better understanding sources of air pollution and working with lawmakers on better air quality policy. The Citizen Air Monitoring Network in Vallejo, California hosts a similar network of private air quality stations to inform and educate residents in the community.

Lower Costs Mean Both Benefits and Concerns

There are numerous opportunities presented by this explosion of inexpensive and reasonably accurate air quality sensors. Before, only the largest cities could afford large, stationary air quality sensors. Similar quality results are now being generated by units mounted to cars, bikes, and individual homes. When the ability of IoT sensor networks like these are combined with other smart city infrastructure like smart poles, cities have an opportunity to provide citizens with information they are seeking.

The proliferation of these sensors also brings some concerns. While the price point of these sensors makes it possible to place more of them in the urban environment, the quality of the data produced is not as high as those from the traditional, large sensors. While locations for large sensors are carefully selected, smaller IoT sensors may not receive the same care. These concerns present questions about how the two sets of data can be combined for the most effective results. If navigated correctly, however, the ability of inexpensive sensors can prove a boon to municipal officials.