Air quality at the heart of the smart city

By Matt Hamblen

Las Vegas

Smart city officials ponder many topics, but air quality is a priority in many cities–including in Las Vegas, home of CES 2018.

It’s not that Vegas is ridden with pollution, but there is blowing dust from the desert.  Some cities worry about carbon monoxide from vehicles, while others want to track smoke from wildfires to provide early warnings to residents and park visitors.

Other cities want to monitor air quality near industrial sites. Or, they might want to gauge pollen and humidity and post that information on publicly-available web sites that could be used by allergy sufferers.

Monitoring air quality has other benefits, including helping city officials plan traffic flows produced by carbon-emitting vehicles.  Follow the smog over many days and weeks and you’ll possibly know how to plan bus routes or where to give route preference to electric vehicles over gas guzzlers.  (Yes, that’s coming!)

Las Vegas has keyed into these themes and recently worked with German technology provider Bosch to install new air quality sensors dubbed Climo at three locations in the downtown and along the Strip. (In the image above, the Climo box is the white object hung on the pole with the police car in the distance. Credit: Bosch)  It’s too early to see the impact the Climo devices will have, but city officials are intrigued with the prospects.

Michael Lee Sherwood, director of the department of information technologies for Las Vegas, said air quality detection is one of several areas of smart city focus in his community, alongside of mobility, public safety, energy conservation and more.  “We have dust particles to monitor and we can potentially look at traffic patterns and time of day for air pollution. It’s a strategic initiative for us,” he said in an interview at a Bosch press conference held Monday at  CES 2018.

Sherwood is even interested in taking the pollution and other data pumped out of the Climo monitors and applying machine learning technology to automate the data analysis.   A city could potentially use the air quality data to correlate with long-term health problems in specific neighborhoods.   Las Vegas hopes to plug its air quality data into similar data collected in the area by Clark County and others, Sherwood said.

What’s Climo?

Bosch introduced Climo at CES as a rugged air quality monitoring box that is small enough to hang on a light pole or a building. It is lightweight and only about 12 x 18 x 6 inches. Inside it runs an Intel processor. It sends data wirelessly, and in Vegas relies on AT&T’s 4G cellular network to send data to City Hall.  It can also rely on Wi-Fi. Power can be supplied by 110/120 volts or 12V DC.

What makes Climo so unusual, if not unique, is that box is one-hundredth the size of conventional air monitoring devices that are as large as boxcar and sit on the ground. It will cost one-tenth as much, thousands of dollars instead of hundreds of thousands, although Bosch hasn’t revealed pricing.  Bosch will also offer services behind the Climo boxes, such as the graphical interface used by city officials as well as  deep data mining capabilities.

Bosch developed the Climo technology with its engineers in India, tapping into its broad array of engineering talent. A privately-held company, Bosch has 400,000 workers globally, including 20,000 software engineers of which about 4,000 work on Internet of Things technologies, almost all of interest to city officials and urban businesses and residents.

The company generated $81 billion in revenues in 2016, the last full year that has been reported. North America revenues were nearly $14 billion.Bosch stated in July 2017 that it had doubled its sales of devices and services in the smart city sector over the prior two years, but didn’t specify a dollar amount.

Climo is installed in other cities, including in Phoenix and several cities in Europe and India, with plans to expand elsewhere. The device measures 10 different components of air quality as well as barometric pressure.  The sensors in Vegas are placed about 1 mile apart, but weather patterns will affect their placement.

Air pollution: monitoring or masks–or both? 

Climo won a coveted Innovation Award from CES show producers and judges. Another Innovation winner was R-Pur, a French startup, that produces an anti-pollution mask that can be worn by pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.  The demand has been good, said co-founder Flavien Hello in an interview at CES.   R-Pur‘s mask and filter sells on some websites for  as little as 89 Euros ($106).

Hello said a recent Kickstarter campaign for R-pur was expected to generate $15,000 over a month, but attracted $16,000 the first day and $52,000 in 29 days.

Contrasting Climo for air quality monitoring with the R-Pur anti-pollution mask shows one dilemma smart city planners face:  Either monitor pollution and try to fix it, or distribute anti-pollution masks. For some cities, the solution will inevitably be both.

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