Blog

Opportunity to innovate in air pollution

Eliza Scott

Published: 2019-11-14

We are all probably aware to varying degrees that the levels of air pollution in the UK are too high, but we perhaps do not understand the full extent of the issue. According to Defra, the annual health cost of particulate matter alone is estimated to be around £16 billion and as a UK average5.3 out of every 100 deaths are the result of air pollution. This figure is far higher for London Boroughs and cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham, which have prevalent illegal air pollution and have been stamped as city-wide Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs).  

Air pollution is an area which needs innovation and investment quickly. The UK government gave councils £260 million in 2018 and a further £5 million in 2019 for implementing local level solutions. This has been put towards awareness campaigns, encouraging people to change habits which might lessen the impacts of air pollution, such as cycling to work or avoiding driving during rush-hours. Funding has also been used to establish electric vehicle infrastructure in cities: retrofitting buses and rubbish bin lorries; installing charging points and giving low-interest loans to drivers to purchase electric cars. With government support, Clean Air Zones or Low Emission Zones have been implemented and diesel cars banned from some city centres, as in London, Brighton, and Glasgow among others. However, these measures are arguably not far-reaching enough, only safeguarding certain people and areas, often leaving the most vulnerable people and areas unprotected.

One technology area receiving a lot of attention and a wide range of applications is Artificial Intelligence. The question then follows: how can we use intelligent technology to tackle air pollution? The goal of a company we are partnered with, which employs novel AI technology, is to alleviate the environmental challenges associated with traffic congestion. Its technology can be used to manage air pollution levels around sensitive sites by optimising journey time and dispersing air pollution. Traffic would be diverted from areas with pre-existing low air quality, or around schools and hospitals. It is perhaps easier to ignore air pollution, as an invisible problem, than other threats to us but this is never a good strategy. With nine in every ten people across the world breathing dangerous air, we need technological innovations, like that of our client’s, to solve this ubiquitous challenge.