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Sensors on buses measure city air quality

Senseable Stockholm Lab

Red bus in city traffic
Last autumn, sensors were fitted to buses in Stockholm to take readings and collect information on the air quality. “The aim is to collect large volumes of data in real time, in order to be able to better understand how the air quality changes in different urban environments in different parts of the city during the course of the day, for instance,” says Sara Borgström. Photo: Unsplash
Published Mar 15, 2021

By installing sensors on moving vehicles researchers can measure the air quality at street level in real time in a totally new way.
“Air borne pollutants, humidity, heat and noise all affect the well-being of city residents to a great extent. We are talking of readings that vary hyperlocally but that have been difficult to obtain up to now,” says Sara Borgström, Coordinator of Senseable Stockholm Lab.

During the pandemic the Senseable Stockholm Lab  building has been silent and empty. The idea had been for researchers from the Senseable City Lab  at MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology to join forces there with KTH researchers and employees from the City of Stockholm.

Large volumes of data that have been collected with new technology were to be combined and analysed in new ways, to create an even better understanding of the environment in Stockholm and support smarter decision-making.

Sensor attached to a car roof
The sensor for measuring air quality

Now, all this work is being done remotely instead, coordinator Sara Borgström , explains, who is in almost daily contact with colleagues at the City of Stockholm and MIT researchers.
Intensive research is in progress in four projects, that have been adapted for the new circumstances to now also collect data on how the city is working during a pandemic. 

One of the projects, the Sensing Platform , has now reached the stage where it is time to evaluate the data collected during a pilot study in autumn 2020, via a specially designed, solar powered sensor.
The sensor was used on bus route 72 in Stockholm, to measure air pollution, humidity and temperature.

About Senseable Stockholm Labs

- In addition to the Sensing Platform project, Senseable Stockholm Lab  includes three other projects: Perspective on Urban Segregation and Inequalities, Ethics and Imbalanced Flow.
- Professor Anders Karlström  is project manager of the Sensing Platform project
- KTH researcher Barbro Fröding  heads a project about ethics within Senseable Stockholm Lab, concerning the processing and analysis of large data volumes.
- Senseable Stockholm Lab is a collaboration between The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) , Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the City of Stockholm with support from Stockholm Chamber of Commerce and Newsec.

“It will be exciting to see how good the data results are, what analyses and visualisations can be done, and how we can scale up the project by placing sensors on several different types of vehicles in the city,” says Borgström.

The research group at MIT have fitted sensors to buses, refuse collection trucks and taxis in Boston and other locations.

They are interested in testing sensors in several different cities, and of analysing data from our Swedish climate and our urban structure together with KTH researchers.

Scaling up the measurements will therefore be the next step. Collecting large volumes of data is one thing – processing this amount of data and making the results available to the public entails totally different challenges. Not least because several different organisations are collaborating in the project.

“We have come a good distance along the way in our work. When we know how best to process all the data, and what types of vehicle are most suitable to fit sensors to, the thinking is then to let the City of Stockholm take over the project,” says Borgström.

Portrait Sara Borgström
“It is about building the city in a way that helps everyone who lives here feel well. We want to involve local residents by making visualisations available to everyone. We want to create insights for the greater public good.”

The City of Stockholm envisages potentially greater opportunities to improve urban planning and administration in different parts of the city, in order to create as good an environment as possible.

“I think it is fantastic that we in the lab are working to resolve concrete challenges facing the city from a research perspective. The possibilities the latest technology can offer should be able to be communicated to and relevant for residents. This aim is something I am very proud of,” says Borgström.

“The Sensing Platform project is about getting to know, see and experience the city in various ways. Ultimately, it is about people living here being able to understand their city.”

Katarina Ahlfort
Photo: KTH


Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Mar 15, 2021