University of Helsinki brings together a corporate cluster to develop techniques for measuring air quality – aiming for scientific and commercial breakthroughs

A cluster comprising the University of Helsinki and various corporations intends to develop new businesses around MegaSense, a system for producing real-time air-quality data. 

The University of Helsinki will start cooperating with Finnish companies within a Business Finland project to create a consortium with the purpose of developing businesses based on the MegaSense project for improving the availability of air-quality data.

A meeting was organised by the University of Helsinki on Friday, 24 August, to brainstorm business ideas for the new consortium.

“MegaSense has every opportunity to reach significant scientific breakthroughs and a wide deployment of the results”, says the head of the project, Professor Sasu Tarkoma of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Helsinki.

The University of Helsinki wants to find new ways of collaborating with the corporate world to support the development of MegaSense into an export product. The companies involved are experts in sensor technology, mobile networks, and data management.

The shared goal of the university and the companies is to make a hundred million euros in the years 2020–2025 on products and services developed around air-quality measurements.

“It is possible to reach this goal. With the help of the new consortium, we will develop Finnish products that can be sold around the world”, says the researcher in charge of coordinating the project, Andrew Rebeiro-Hargrave from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Helsinki.

MegaSense consortium meeting demo

Introducing MegaSense in practice and how the air quality measuring sensors work.

Applying for significant funding

The university and companies are applying for significant Co-Innovation funding from Business Finland, which offers internationalisation and funding services.

“This is a new approach for the university, as we are taking the initiative. Usually, the university acts in the background of businesses, but now one of the goals is to gain sustainable funding for the university”, Rebeiro-Hargrave says.

There are also start-ups among the companies, such as Mapple, which originates from the research of the Digital Geography and Earth Change Observation Labs at the Department of Geoscience and Geography as well as the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR) at the University of Helsinki. Mapple develops interactive geospatial analytics. 

“Through the MegaSense cooperation, we can integrate air-quality data into our own model on a larger scale. Cities can, for instance, keep track of how the amount of air pollution changes if traffic volumes grow in a certain area, or how pollution is reduced if cycling is increased in a certain area. Based on our simulations it would be possible to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 80 %, for example”, says Mapple’s Chief Operating Officer Karolina Mosiadz.

Better air quality in cities

The MegaSense project brings together expertise in atmospheric sciences, computer science, and geo-informatics at the University of Helsinki. The idea of MegaSense is to combine a large number of low-cost sensors measuring outdoor air quality with extremely precise SMEAR concept stations to form a network producing data in real-time. Citizens can follow and monitor the air quality in their streets and across large areas, such as cities.

Besides cities, real-time air-quality data can be beneficial to such bodies as the Finnish Meteorological Institute and Stara, the Helsinki City construction services. Based on the precise data, in future we can restrict or redirect traffic, for example, or it can be used more generally to support urban planning. Consumers can download an app to their smart devices to find the route with the cleanest air for their outing.

For the air-quality data to be accurate, we need a large number of sensors. Depending on the size of a city, it may take up to hundreds and thousands of sensors. The data from the sensors is calibrated, combined, and processed in real time through a 5G network.

One of the future challenges is how to make the air-quality data comprehensible for politicians and decision-makers. Maybe the companies involved will find new solutions for this.

Janne Edgren

Chief Technology Officer Janne Edgren from Coheros showcasing their air quality measuring sensor that changes colour according to its measurements.

Read more about the MegaSense project: 
MegaSense website
Uni­versity of Helsinki and Nokia Bell Labs de­ve­lop smart 5G tech­no­logy to mon­itor air qual­ity
MegaSense introduced in China

More about the subject: Data science news