MegaSense helps avoid air pollution
A network of sensors that measure air quality is being built in Helsinki, which can be used as the basis for a range of health-promoting applications to help avoid air pollution.

The fine particles you breathe in affect your health, and they are not easy to avoid. The more accurate and real-time the data collected on air quality, the smarter the applications that can be designed to promote residents’ health and wellbeing as well as a clean environment.

The University of Helsinki’s MegaSense programme aims to build a global observation system which produces uniform, accurate and real-time data on harmful substances found in the air. The programme strives to remove any bottlenecks associated with measurement with the help of a comprehensive measuring station network and artificial intelligence.

Combining light and heavy measuring devices

Measuring and analysing air quality and utilising the data are complicated activities that are prone to errors, and the currently available measuring techniques do not yet produce very accurate data.

Expensive measuring stations cannot be installed very densely, while the problem with inexpensive air quality sensors is that they are unable to produce data that is as accurate as that produced by the more expensive devices.

“Combining the two opens up entirely new possibilities”, says Professor Sasu Tarkoma from the Department of Computer Science, University of Helsinki. Tarkoma heads the MegaSense programme.

Ultimately, air quality analyses and related knowledge are based on an extensive observation dataset collected through the Stations Measuring Earth Surfaces and Atmosphere Relations (SMEAR) measuring network.

Portable measuring devices are light and inexpensive. When such a portable device is used alongside the expensive state-of-the-art device measuring thousands of different particles in Kumpula, the accuracy of the less costly instrument is also improved.

Now, inexpensive sensors have also been combined with a technical solution that automatically adjusts the sensors’ measuring accuracy with the help of artificial intelligence and mathematical models known as virtual sensors.

This solution, which is called an integrated model, brings the measurements of inexpensive sensors almost up to the same level of accuracy as those of fixed measuring devices.

One of the already released applications is Green Paths routing tool for the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, which helps its users avoid busy streets and still reach their destinations as quickly as possible. Its recommendations are based on real-time air quality data and noise level measurements conducted throughout the city. 

Tarkoma believes we have only witnessed the initial stages of future development in the field.

The problem

Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental risks affecting human health, as it causes as many as every ninth death globally. Polluted air is a major problem particularly in megacities and densely populated areas. According to estimates, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. And yet, not much research has been conducted on urban air quality so far.

The solution

The MegaSense research programme aims to build a global observation system which produces uniform, accurate and real-time data on harmful substances found in the air. The programme strives to remove any bottlenecks associated with measurement with the help of a comprehensive measuring station network and artificial intelligence.

The data can be used to design healthier and more ecological urban environments. People could, for example, monitor their exposure to fine particles.

Contact us!

Contact details of the programme

Jari Strandman, CEO of Helsinki Innovation Services Lt
jari.strandman@helsinki.fi

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