Google is now adding one more service to its roster: tracking air pollution. Some of the Google Street View cars—which are equipped with cameras, lasers and GPS devices to gather data and images for Google Maps—now carry sensors that measure pollutants in the air.
The "mini-mobile labs" are attached in the back of the cars. Air reaches them through tubes that pass through one of the vehicle’s windows. Among the pollutants being tracked are carbon monoxide, methane, and ozone, all of which can contribute to health problems. The program is currently being tested in the San Francisco Bay Area after a successful trial in Denver last year.
Many cities already track air pollution, but sensors are often few and far between—plus they don't move around. Google hopes its street-by-street data collection will help local governments find ways to address pollutant sources and improve local air quality. The data may also contribute to scientific research on air pollution.
As data on air pollution becomes more widely available, it could also allow people to avoid zones with poor air quality. For example, “If you're a mother of an asthmatic child, you could plan your day using this kind of information,” Google's Karin Tuxen-Bettman told NPR.