October 5, 2015

Google Maps Out Pollution in California

A vista of Los Angeles covered by smog.
Image from Just Rent To Own.

By Megan G.

Some big changes are happening with Google, including their legal restructuring into Alphabet and its subsidiary companies:  Calico, GoogleX, Fiber, Google Ventures, Google Capital, Nest, and—of course—Google.

A graphical representation of Alphabet's structure.
Image from BGR
You may have heard the buzz surrounding this change, from the brief life of Google-created Maple Technologies to the omission of Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto from the Alphabet mantra.  

Basically, Google (now Alphabet) has been preparing for this structural shakeup since their release of the Alphabet website.  Now, specifically for their investors’ interests, it's all official.

The Alphabet restructuring has been identified as part of Google’s innovative efforts in the health, science, and technology industries.  As we have seen, Alphabet and its subsidiary companies have wasted no time trying to reach that goal. 

Google’s Promise for a Greener World

Last Monday, Google Maps partnered with Aclima, a San Francisco-based company that creates environmental sensory networks.  As the digital mapping technology of Street View cars pairs with Aclima’s environmental sensors, the two companies plan to map out air pollution in Californian cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.   

A computer-generated image of an urban city, with clear skies and a Google Maps Street View Car.
Image from Aclima.

This partnership was fostered through the Clinton Global Initiative, which “convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”  Sounds right up Google’s—ahem, sorry—Alphabet’s alley.

Considering Google’s pledge to the Obama Administration back in July—the one initiated by the American Business Act on Climate—the company’s continued involvement in government-influenced environment projects should come as no surprise.

So, what are Aclima and Google Maps bringing to the pollution-mapping table?


Aclima is the true star of the show in this project, even if Google Maps has made their operations mobile and more effective.  Their trademarked slogan, ‘Live Aware™,’ means awareness for everyone, not just large companies and corporations in the tech and science sectors. 

According to the video Aclima & Google Map How Cities Live and Breathe, both companies want pollution information to be as readily available as the weather. 

“By making this kind of information available and accessible to everyone, we’re hoping that regular citizens and decision makers alike can all join in, and be part of that dialogue to make improvements to our environment, to our air.”
Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Program Manager at Google Earth Outreach.  

54% of the world’s population lives in urban cities, meaning half of us are exposed to debilitating pollutants that we ourselves add to on a daily basis.  With companies like Aclima and their partners, we could be able to measure the pollutants in our local area and, being constantly aware of our polluted existences, actually do something about it.

In addition to Street View cars, Aclima’s deployment platforms include indoor “nodes” to test air quality in office spaces and other buildings, as well as outdoor sensor networks for hyper-local views of traffic, planning, emissions, and meteorology.  You can find a more detailed explanation of these systems on their “What We Deliver” page.

Google Maps

The team at Google Maps supplies the Street View cars for Aclima’s mapping processes.  Equipped with the Aclima sensory technology, Google drivers now collect environmental information along with Street View images and street mapping data. 

A graphical illustration of different pollutants.
Image from Aclima Insights.

Before, Aclima only worked with research partners that gathered data through stationary equipment, such as the tech equipment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  They place their equipment in urban areas, and those setups measure a variety of pollutants from their stable location. 

While this agency’s network assists with air quality regulation, their data does not supply the kind of immediate, intricate results that can be recorded with a Google Street View car.  The beauty of Google Maps’ digital mapping technology is that it can deliver results from all over the city in real time.

Quicker, more extensive, and low cost data gathering means Aclima can make their pollution data readily available to the general public.

A Cleaner, Brighter Life

Did you read the story about China achieving crystal blue skies in time for Beijing’s massive military parade?  Authorities took the initiative to lessen pollutants for the sake of an “azure backdrop” for their parading celebration of Japan’s defeat in World War II.  In order to achieve blue skies in Beijing, hundreds of factories were shut down and half of the city’s registered cars were banned from driving.  

Beijing had clear skies for nearly two weeks.  The city's air quality on the day of the parade started at 17 out of 500, also known as “very health air.”  Right after the parade, the city’s skies returned to their signature grey and the air quality score shot up to 160, aka “unhealthy.”  China still has regulations on drivers to prevent traffic and pollution, such as reserving one day a week for each car to be banned from the roads.

Imagine if we actively measured pollutants on a daily basis.  Think what would happen if our own government took action for the sake of clean air and blue skies, but for the long term instead of just one day.  Perhaps with the help of Aclima and Google Maps, we could make those improvements a reality.    

What do you think of this partnership?  Are you concerned about the quality of our air?  Let the Tek Team know in the comments!

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