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,


looking at ways to tackle air pollution around the world.


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


It has a particular sensitivity to a range of gases


which are invisible to the human eye.


The camera is supposed to be used by experts who know


what they're looking for in the numbers


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


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


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


coming from some of the exhaust pipes through this camera


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


you have to know where the pollution is coming from


That is something that Mark Cieslak has been investigating.


Poor air quality, as a result of pollution,


poses a serious risk to public health.


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


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


after high blood pressure and smoking.


But whether it triggers allergies or asthma,


understanding the exact challenges pollution causes,


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


We can identify areas where there are particular problems.


Action to gather that even more precise data about pollution


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


Because of Chicago's location in the Midwest


and the fact that it is a large city,


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


All those different types of vehicles


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


Here, a system is being installed which has been dubbed


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


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


The array will monitor a variety of different things,


from traffic levels to local climate as well as monitoring


Eventually, all of the data the Array gathers will be


made available online for anybody to use.


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


It is part of the US Department of Energy


and is the birthplace of the Array of Things.


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


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


and the technology they contain, liaising with city officials


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


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


Which part here is the air quality sensor?


Each one here is a specific cell attuned to a specific


This a ozone, this is a sulphur dioxide sensor.


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


Installation of the array began towards the end of 2016.


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


spread across different parts of the city.


Charlie Catlett is the Array of Things project lead.


of some of the city's earlier sensor sites.


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


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


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


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


particularly high and we know that that that is associated


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


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


at the very fine particles that are measured


The smaller particles are the ones you cannot see


but they are really the most dangerous one.


They will go straight into your bloodstream.


The large ones are what triggers allergies.


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


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


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


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


Chicago is not alone when it comes to pollution monitoring.


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


which combines historical pollution data with current pollution


measurements to provide an hourly update of pollution levels


Array of Things nodes have been installed in other US cities


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


in the system internationally as well.


The data generated by the Array of Things will be used


by researchers, scientists and healthcare professionals to get


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


When it comes to turning this information into action,


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


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


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


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


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


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


the patterns and issues with air quality in Chicago


at a detailed level because you cannot fix a problem


if you cannot define it and understand it.


We might be thinking about how heavy pollutant vehicles can


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


across the city of Chicago but there is some very clear


research showing that inhaling diesel fumes,


especially by cyclists as they are riding alongs traffic,


So it really helps us picture and take a good look


at where the bike avenues are and how that corresponds


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


to an area that has increased air quality challenges,


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


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


growing neighbourhood on the west side.


It has quickly evolved into one of our trendiest residential


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


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


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


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


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


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


But the big pollution-busting powers lay with local


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


With this water tank, they can launch their prototype.


Oops, I knocked a thing into your tank.


They even have their own wind tunnel.


Imperial College's AquaMAV is a drone that can fly


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


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


of pollution levels above and below the surface.


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


This is our response to extreme environments or post-disaster


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


There are different classes of applications and capability to do


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


value compared to many other methods such as the human


going there with a full protective suit.


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


It never occurred to me that is quite difficult to get


an underwater robot over great distances quickly and,


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


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


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


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


the information that local people need, so combining


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


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


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


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


beautifully becomes this flying birdlike thing.


That was a very romantic description.


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


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


And elegance in nature that makes it effective as well.


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


to reduce the drag that it would experience as it dives


in the water and allows it to dive more deeply,


as well as protecting the wings on impact.


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


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


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