Air Quality Click - Short Edition


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Air Quality

As part of the #SoIcanBreathe season, Click focuses on solutions to pollution, including diving drones and a network of sensors. Includes tech news.


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This week is the BBC's So I Can Breathe season,

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looking at ways to tackle air pollution around the world.

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We are out on the streets of London to test a new camera

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It has a particular sensitivity to a range of gases

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which are invisible to the human eye.

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The camera is supposed to be used by experts who know

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what they're looking for in the numbers

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and colours that they see and it's really supposed to be used

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in industrial locations as well, where you are looking for gas leaks.

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But, I must say, even here I can see sprays

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coming from some of the exhaust pipes through this camera

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Now, if you want to tackle air pollution problems across a city,

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you have to know where the pollution is coming from

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That is something that Mark Cieslak has been investigating.

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Poor air quality, as a result of pollution,

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poses a serious risk to public health.

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The Global Burden of Disease data now suggests that a lack of

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clean air is the third leading cause of death in the world

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after high blood pressure and smoking.

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But whether it triggers allergies or asthma,

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understanding the exact challenges pollution causes,

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The more precise the information is, the better we can come up

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We can identify areas where there are particular problems.

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Action to gather that even more precise data about pollution

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is being taken on the other side of the Atlantic, in Chicago.

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Because of Chicago's location in the Midwest

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and the fact that it is a large city,

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it is something of a transport hub for road, rail and air travellers.

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All those different types of vehicles

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don't do the city's air quality any favours.

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Here, a system is being installed which has been dubbed

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It is called the Array of Things, and when it is completed

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it will be a citywide network of sensors, or nodes,

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The array will monitor a variety of different things,

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from traffic levels to local climate as well as monitoring

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Eventually, all of the data the Array gathers will be

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made available online for anybody to use.

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We have come just outside of Chicago to the Argonne National Laboratory.

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It is part of the US Department of Energy

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and is the birthplace of the Array of Things.

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The donor is really into air quality, so they are really excited.

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Here, the team behind the array continue to refine the sensor boxes

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and the technology they contain, liaising with city officials

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and arranging the continued roll-out of the network across the city.

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This is the guts, if you like, of the Array of Things nodes.

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Which part here is the air quality sensor?

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Each one here is a specific cell attuned to a specific

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This a ozone, this is a sulphur dioxide sensor.

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Nitrogen dioxide sensor and there's a token reducing gases.

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Installation of the array began towards the end of 2016.

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By the end of 2018, 500 nodes are planned for the network,

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spread across different parts of the city.

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Charlie Catlett is the Array of Things project lead.

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of some of the city's earlier sensor sites.

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So, Charlie, this is the site of one of your first sensors,

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This one here does the air quality, not just the general air quality

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but this one will tell us seven different gases and so that means

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we can say, well, this one is reading this gas

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particularly high and we know that that that is associated

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The new ones that we are putting in, we have added a new sensor

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What we can do with this particle sensor is we can look

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at the very fine particles that are measured

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The smaller particles are the ones you cannot see

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but they are really the most dangerous one.

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They will go straight into your bloodstream.

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The large ones are what triggers allergies.

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So if you are somebody that's got allergies related to asthma,

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you will be able to use the data from these nodes to look at pollen

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across the city and you might decide to change your cycle route you take

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to school or work, based on maybe where the pollen concentration

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Chicago is not alone when it comes to pollution monitoring.

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For example, in London, we there's a system called Nowcast,

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which combines historical pollution data with current pollution

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measurements to provide an hourly update of pollution levels

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Array of Things nodes have been installed in other US cities

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with one in Seattle and another in Denver and there is interest

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in the system internationally as well.

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The data generated by the Array of Things will be used

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by researchers, scientists and healthcare professionals to get

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a better picture of the effects of poor air quality and pollution.

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When it comes to turning this information into action,

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Brennna Berman and Tom Schenk both work for the city of Chicago

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and are figuring out how the Array of Things can help the city

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We have pockets of increased rates of asthma among our children that

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doctors have known about for quite some time but they do not have a lot

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of information about why they happen in certain areas of the city.

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The role of the Array of Things is really to help us understand

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the patterns and issues with air quality in Chicago

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at a detailed level because you cannot fix a problem

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if you cannot define it and understand it.

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We might be thinking about how heavy pollutant vehicles can

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The City of Chicago has installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes,

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across the city of Chicago but there is some very clear

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research showing that inhaling diesel fumes,

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especially by cyclists as they are riding alongs traffic,

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So it really helps us picture and take a good look

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at where the bike avenues are and how that corresponds

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If you have a school or another sort of vulnerable location very close

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to an area that has increased air quality challenges,

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the data from the Array of Things will give us the ability to define

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A good example here in Chicago will actucally be the very quickly

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growing neighbourhood on the west side.

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It has quickly evolved into one of our trendiest residential

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But it is also crisscrossed by any number of street level railroads.

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By looking at data, by using this data such as the Array of Things,

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we are going to be able to make thos decisions more confidently

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and we are going to know that better than in fact many other cities

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have the ability to know that, because of the data that we look at.

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Here, the technology clearly has a role to play in the fight

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But the big pollution-busting powers lay with local

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Back in London, I'm checking out a pollution monitoring device

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With this water tank, they can launch their prototype.

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Oops, I knocked a thing into your tank.

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They even have their own wind tunnel.

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Imperial College's AquaMAV is a drone that can fly

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through the air, dive into the water and then leap out again.

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All the while, gathering data to give us a greater understanding

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of pollution levels above and below the surface.

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The plan is to release a swarm of them into an area of concern.

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This is our response to extreme environments or post-disaster

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applications such as after floods, toxic spills, or oil spills,

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There are different classes of applications and capability to do

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sampling with an automated, low-cost tool brings an enormous

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value compared to many other methods such as the human

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going there with a full protective suit.

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I was going to say, we have seen a lot of aquatic robots and we have

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It never occurred to me that is quite difficult to get

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an underwater robot over great distances quickly and,

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So, yes, we will just dive it in the water and then dive it out

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In some applications it is not even accessible through the water,

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in floods or floating ice, you may not get there via water.

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On the other side, an aerial beacon may not be able to get

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the information that local people need, so combining

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During a dive, the AquaMAV fills with water and then by releasing

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carbon dioxide from its on-board gas chamber it forces the water back out

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as a high-powered jet which thrusts the drone back upwards,

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And then the wings unfold and it comes out of the water and it

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beautifully becomes this flying birdlike thing.

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That was a very romantic description.

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Now you know how romantic I am and what I get excited about.

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There is a beautiful part of it which makes it elegant.

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And elegance in nature that makes it effective as well.

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Having the folding wings might look beautiful but for us it allows us

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to reduce the drag that it would experience as it dives

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in the water and allows it to dive more deeply,

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as well as protecting the wings on impact.

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The use it for the short cut to click. Join us on Twitter for laser

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tech news and behind the scenes gossip. Next week join us for two

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special clicks from India. Thank you for watching. See you then.

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