Ireland Climate action and sustainable development, Technology

Project Air View: Dublin City Council’s award winning collaboration with Google

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Credit: AmandaLewis on iStock

This article from Dublin City Council showcases their award-winning Project Air View initiative, which was launched in partnership with Google and measured local street-level air quality for the first time in Ireland. The initiative received the Sustainable Environment and Biodiversity Award.

When more than one hundred data scientists and technologists gathered in Google’s Dublin HQ last February for Air Quality Data Hack 2023, Dublin City Council was truly giving power to its people. With the aim of optimising air quality in the city, citizens from the worlds of technology, academia and innovation were invited and challenged to make a major contribution to the city they call home – through the power of data and collaboration.

Project Air View was born from a clear goal of gaining hyperlocal insights into air quality by complementing the cities’ stationary monitoring approaches through measuring pollution levels on accessible road networks in urban communities where stationary monitors can’t reach.

Over 16 months, an electric Street View Car equipped with advanced sensors meticulously captured over 50 million air quality measurements across the streets of Dublin city, providing valuable insights into a range of pollutants known to affect community health adversely. The air pollution measurements were used to develop maps of street-level air pollution.

The mapped, street-by-street air quality data is a first for an Irish city. The initiative’s overall objective was to make air quality data and insights open, and collaborate with cities and other government agencies, scientists, non-profit organisations, and the public to enable more informed conversations and contributions to a sustainable environment.

These big data and citywide air quality maps are made openly available at Google Environments Explorer and Dublin’s Open Data Platform, Dublinked to support policy development, future research, advocacy & awareness around air quality for a sustainable environment.

Looking beyond the smog

Since the Industrial Revolution, poor air quality in many cities and large towns worldwide has impacted tourism, investment, and, most importantly, citizens’ health.

With the arrival of smokeless fuels in recent decades, we see less smoke and smog in our cities, and it has in many ways become an invisible problem. Research tells us that over time, suboptimal air quality is still having an impact on the most vulnerable in our society.

Dublin City Council has taken key steps to enhance the city’s air quality for citizens and visitors alike, and is known as one of the best cities in Europe in terms of air quality monitoring. While statutory regulations are in place alongside the council’s own clean-air strategy and policy, the city has gone one step further.

“By teaming up with one of Dublin’s biggest employers, Google, we have gathered over 50 million pieces of data from Google’s Street cars to monitor air quality on every road, cycleway, and footpath throughout the city over a period of 16 months”, said Jamie Cudden, Smart City Programme Manager Dublin City Council.

Offering new insights through new data

Now, the capability is there to fully explore these numbers and apply them to help improve the lives and health of Dubliners. As an international hub of technology companies, ambitious start-ups and universities, Dublin is a city that lives and breathes technology and data. And who better to work with this new data than the legions of programmers, statisticians, data analysts and researchers who walk its streets every day. In computer programming, the concept of the hackathon describes a forum whereby people collaborate over an accelerated period of time to develop solutions and refine thinking on specific topics. And with that, the stage was set for Air Quality Data Hack 2023.

In February 2023, Dublin City Council, together with Google, launched the results of Project Air View, with over 50 million records of air quality measurements across 5 million locations across the city, with the car covering over 30,000 km distance. Over one hundred or so data scientists, coders, software developers, atmospheric specialists, research students, and urban planners gathered in Google HQ for two days of collaboration, competition, and community. Sixteen teams entered, representing universities, workplaces and others who felt they had something to offer their home city – and spent two days thinking, analyzing, listening and presenting theories and ideas. Working with such a massive data set was challenging but all groups demonstrated a remarkable ability to come up with a wide range of concepts, solutions, or prototypes to unlock the potential of granular and hyperlocal city air quality data for Dublin City.

Saving lives with transformational thinking

With prizes in place for the winner and two runners-up, the competition was both fierce and friendly. The first runner-up went by the tongue-in-cheek name of Definitely Not ChatGPT and focused on air quality around four major hospitals in the city. It used correlation maps and a combination of air quality and traffic light data to identify air quality concerns around healthcare facilities.

Aerlytics were placed second runner-up with a similar focus on schools and focused on the urgent need to address air pollution in school zones to protect the health and well-being of children.

The hackathon winners for 2023 were Team Phoenix, comprised of six researchers from Trinity’s Schools of Engineering and Computer Science and Statistics, and they secured the top prize of €1,500. Taking the core Google data, and combining it with additional datasets, including CSO statistics, mapping data, vulnerability assessment metrics and technical tools, they successfully assessed vulnerable zones in Dublin with substandard air quality – with a view to feeding these insights into future plans for active travel within the city.

Speaking on behalf of their teammates, a member of Team Phoenix summed up their experience so well.

“On the day, the experts were so helpful, giving loads of insights into the data and different approaches that could be taken in analyzing it. Through our work, we showed the value of the data and how it can enrich Dublin City Council’s decision-making”, they said.

Living and breathing collaboration

The collaboration and connectivity on show in Project Air View summed up so much that is good about Dublin today. What was once a small city on the edge of Europe, is now a global hub for investment, technology and software engineering, attracting talent from all over the world.

For the brightest and best in our communities, getting the opportunity to work with key data allows them to give something back to the city they call home. It seems fitting that the democratization of data is starting to play a key role in developing our democracies in the digital age. For its part, Dublin City Council sees the hackathon as a wonderful illustration of the power of data to drive real societal change.

“As we consider major challenges like climate change, it is clear they cannot be resolved by one city council or one citizen. However, by creating models to bring together all the right stakeholders, we can work together to try and solve them. Partnering with a data specialist like Google ensures we can provide the raw materials, platform, and resources to help make data-driven policy decisions with clarity and conviction”, adds Jamie.

Making home a better place to live

Every city is only as good as the citizens it serves. And when a city is home to a bustling population of data wizards and technical gurus, making the most of these skills and expertise makes sense. What Air Quality Data Hack 2023 says more than anything is that when true collaboration happens, anything is possible. The power of data is having a major impact on urban living worldwide, and undertaking data-driven initiatives just like this in the age of digital will drive our cities forward to a healthier, happier and more prosperous future.



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