Google’s Street View cars are gathering pollution data and here’s the first map

Why it matters to you

With the mileage they cover, it makes sense for Google to use its Street View cars in this way. Especially if it leads to cleaner air for city dwellers.

Google’s camera-equipped Street View cars have mapped and remapped millions of miles of road around the world, allowing anyone with an internet connection to enjoy a virtual drive through a plethora of countries.

While me might sometimes wish we could be there in person, some of those places are probably best viewed from the comfort of an armchair considering current pollution levels, especially in some of the more urban areas.

With constant exposure to foul air endangering the health of those who live with it, Google decided a couple of years ago to make more use of those Street View cars as they tour U.S. roads, fitting them with devices that gather pollution data.

This week the Silicon Valley, California-based company shared the first results of this ongoing project, which it’s conducting with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) using measuring equipment built by Aclima.

The new maps show data for the Californian city of Oakland, revealing levels of harmful pollutants such as nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and black carbon released from cars, trucks, and other sources. High exposure to such pollutants is linked to heart attacks, strokes, and some cancers, Google wrote in a blog post.

As you’d expect with a Google map, you can zoom in to each street for more accurate data, and see how pollution levels change within very short distances, often block by block. Added notes (below) also explain why some parts of a city are worse than others when it comes to pollution.

Google says the data can be used locally by environmental groups and regulators to improve air quality, as well as by other cities that are currently trying to get a handle on their own pollution levels as they search for ways to clean up the environment. The overriding goal is to “understand how to live healthier lives, build smarter and more sustainable cities, and reduce climate-changing greenhouse gases in both urban and rural areas.” Scientists can already request access to the validated data.

The Street View cars have helped to gather one of the largest air quality datasets ever published, Google said, helping to make the invisible visible and offering an excellent opportunity for city planners to enact changes to improve environmental conditions for one and all.