In both iOS and Android, Google Maps now has a new Air Quality layer that you can use to plan your next walk or bike trip in excellent weather or to plan your escape from smog and smoke in bad weather. The new layer overlays an Air Quality Index (AQI) overlay directly onto the map grid, using government data from agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States to illustrate how healthy the air is in general.
Even better, it displays data collected from PurpleAir’s network of sensors to report hyperlocal street conditions. More information on the health impact of the air quality, the time and source of the most recent reading, and links to learn more may be found by clicking on the AQI readings peppered across Google Maps.
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PurpleAir’s low-cost sensors use laser particle counters to measure particles. PurpleAir founder Adrian Dybwad explained to The Verge back in 2020, when his company’s sensors became a popular way to track the smoke produced by catastrophic wildfires raging across the West Coast, “You basically shine a laser through the air, and then the particles in the air reflect the light, and the detector picks up those reflections.”
When a government monitoring station is unable to give data for a location or does not operate in that area, Google turns to “non-regulatory partners” for information. These aren’t official government monitoring stations, according to Google, but they do give sensor data that allows the business to generate a weighted average using the NowCast algorithm. The AQI of that area is then calculated by applying the US Environmental Protection Agency’s adjustment factor to that average.
Google Maps included a wildfire layer last year to keep track of the expanding hazard. Breezometer, in addition to PurpleAir, is in the business of mapping hyperlocal air quality. Since early last year, many e-bike users have depended on the company’s statistics to prevent pollution on their commutes. Breezometer, on the other hand, claims to have a 5-meter data resolution by using complicated models rather than physical sensors (about 16 feet).
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