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Google Street View Cars Now Get a Whiff of Pollution Instead of Wi-Fi

Cities are happening places, every neighborhood a different personality, each street a new experience. And around every corner, a different atmospheric mixture of pollutants to clog your lungs, cloud your eyes, and congest your heart.

It’s no secret that cities have bad air, but until now it’s only been possible to describe how bad in ordinal terms: Los Angeles is bad, but not as bad as Bakersfield, but both are nowhere near as nasty as Beijing. Now Google has partnered with an environmental testing startup to measure air quality within a city. And not just block by block, but an hour to hour, day to night.

On July 29, Google announced that three of its Street View cars had spent over a month driving through Denver, gathering data on nine different pollutants. Each car was equipped with a suite of environmental sensors built by Aclima, a San Francisco-based company. Now the project which also involved partnering with the EPA, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab is coming to San Francisco, and its creators hope it will lead to a global network of air quality sensors with open data that will let you plan your outdoor excursions (and inhalations) to avoid the most polluted locations and times of day.

The sensors sitting in the back of the cars started out in Google’s offices. When we started working with Street View we had already deployed the largest environmental sensor network in the world, says Davida Herzl, CEO of Aclima, the company that built the sensors. For years, the company has been collecting air quality data from more than 500 sensors across 21 different Google offices around the world.

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