How air quality in smart cities can be improved with combined technology solutions

Article
May 11, 2021
Improving environmental conditions within smart cities starts with understanding and measuring different factors which could have a negative impact on sustainability goals. Air pollution has been cited for its effect on citizens’ health and climate change and remains a major concern for city authorities, especially when pollution levels are becoming increasingly regulated, with stricter penalties for non-compliance.

Outside of industrial activities, factors affecting air quality tend to be closely linked to traffic behaviour and flow, so solutions which combine situational awareness and environmental monitoring are key to tackling the problem. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for achieving environmental goals, and a key component will be having the right technology in place to tackle air pollution directly. This article will discuss how city officials are using solutions from Axis and its partner Vaisala which combine environmental sensors and video surveillance to better understand – and improve – air quality.

Good air quality starts with understanding the environment

Increased urbanization of cities has also resulted in an increase in the number of vehicles – both private and publicly owned. To meet the expectations of convenience, especially when striving to become a ’15-minute city’, major investments must be made in mass transit and easing congestion. Unfortunately, more vehicles have historically been correlated with declining air quality and to combat this more cities are moving to greener fuel alternatives - but this must be supported by wider traffic planning. Improving the flow of traffic and parking management will help to address the negative impact of emissions on air quality.

But, how do you know if you’ve affected change? The Austrian management consultant Peter Drucker once famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Although he said this in the context of business practices, the same could be applied when addressing challenges in smart cities – monitoring and measurement are essential. If there is no information on the current state of affairs – or whether the situation is improving or deteriorating –  it makes it difficult to benchmark. To better understand the types of tools that city officials need to monitor and measure the environment, we caught up with Arjun Nandanuri, Manager, Sales and Business Development – Urban Environment at Vaisala, a Finnish company and Axis partner.

According to Arjun, effective solutions must be able to both ‘see’ how vehicles are moving and detect when the air quality is deteriorating. For example, when vehicles are idling in traffic in a specific area for a period of time. This is why partnering with Axis is so effective. A combination of a connected IoT sensor and surveillance camera provides the right information from the environment for an action to be taken.

Addressing external and internal air quality

Arjun Nandanuri
Arjun Nandanuri, Manager, Sales and Business Development – Urban Environment at Vaisala

In addition to the direct monitoring of air quality (and contributing factors), combined solutions can help drive revenue for cities. Arjun notes that electric vehicle charging points are often used by regular vehicles as a parking area, which increases driver frustration and can lead to congestion. Through ‘hyperlocal’ monitoring, sensors placed in the areas can detect changes to the air quality if a regular vehicle lingers. A camera can then use license plate recognition to identify the vehicle and coordinated with city officials to issue a fine to the owner.

Although idling cars can be a serious culprit when it comes to air pollution, wider traffic management must also be considered. Weather sensors placed on highways can also help determine the conditions of the road, which can inform traffic routes and management. A coordinated effort between sensors and cameras is critical. Such solutions combine three different types of sensors: one measuring air quality, a compact weather station (to give road conditions) and a digital solution to pull and collate data in a video management system.

Applications are not limited to the outside world; the air quality within buildings must also be monitored. Arjun has seen an increased demand for sensors to monitor CO2 levels, as this directly correlates with increased people density. If residents or employees are congregating in a specific area, sensors can monitor small changes in CO2 concentration and when combined with cameras equipped with people counting technology, actions can be taken to disperse groups to help comply with social distancing regulations.

Environmental monitoring in action: Vaisala Oyj and Starckrom Tehnologii SRL

From a wider perspective, combined solutions can offer real benefits to those cities which are becoming more serious about air pollution. The city of Iași in Romania had failed to comply with the EU limit values for particles (PM10 and PM2.5) and for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and had been notified by the European Commission on a few occasions.

Local authorities blamed traffic, house heating and construction activities for the high values of pollutants, and addressing the issue was becoming critical. Vaisala Oyj (Finland) together with the local partner in Romania, Starckrom Tehnologii SRL, deployed a pilot system on the main entrance to the city of Iași alongside the E85, one of the major roads going through the city.

The AXIS Q1615-E Mk II also ran the embedded traffic analysis application for traffic counting, vehicle classification and other traffic-related parameters such as average speed. By monitoring different aspects of the city’s environment, the combined solution created a clearer picture for city authorities, allowing them to build strategies to better combat the issues around pollutants in the future.

Vaisala Oyj and Starckrom Tehnologii SRL are involved in another similar project in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, which is also aimed at measuring the impact of traffic on local pollution levels which is currently being run.

A fresh perspective for the future

Environmental issues can only be addressed if they are consistently monitored and measured and smart cities have the right type of infrastructure to support connected solutions. By combining sensors with network surveillance cameras, city officials are provided with the right type of information which can be used in a number of ways – not just to improve environmental conditions at present, but to inform strategic planning. Looking to the future, cities will depend on combined solutions to ensure that they’re equipped for changing conditions and are best placed to help maintain the health of residents, ultimately enabling them to meet and surpass their sustainability goals.

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