air pollution

Leverage AI to fight air pollution in India

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is having disruptive effects in many industries and areas of life, and it is increasingly used in Smart Cities to tackle urgent problems such as air pollution.

According to Greenpeace analysts, 22 out of 30 world’s most polluted cities are in India, where every winter more than 140 million people are exposed to severe air pollution. In national capital Delhi, PM2.5 air pollution claimed approximately 54,000 lives in 2020.

Independent research stated India would require a minimum of 4000 controlling stations to monitor air quality – but today, there are roughly 160 active stations in the country, an absolutely inadequate network to collect reliable and meaningful data to support any evaluation or decision-making process.

Here is where AI comes into play. Detailed air quality monitoring should combine different sources of information, including data generated by air controlling stations, weather and satellite data, but also human-related activities such as mobility and traffic, industrial settlements, waste management and garbage burning. AI can be leveraged to correlate all those factors and provide a better geospatial interpolation of air pollution data, thus supporting forecasts by a more precise understanding of pollution sources and evolutive trends.

Citizens can also offer a valuable contribution. In India, the UNDP Accelerator Lab developed a GeoAI digital platform in collaboration with the University of Nottingham to find hotspots of air pollution using satellite imagery and AI object detection algorithms. These algorithms were trained by a large group of volunteer citizen scientists across the world. Specifically, their goal was to detect brick kilns which are hotspots of vulnerable labour and air pollution. Applying AI algorithms to the citizen science trained data, more than 47,000 brick kilns across Indo-Gangetic plains of India were detected and incorporated into the GeoAI open data platform, which uses an innovative approach and a mix of technologies to determine the exact locations of brick kilns through satellite imagery and their compliance to existing environmental policies and laws.

With active facilitation and training, volunteers succeeding in classifying more than 2,500 kilns within a week: such intelligence powered by both citizens and AI is valuable for environmental regulators to initiate action against non-compliant kilns, facilitating targeted intervention to combat air pollution hotspots.

Air pollution in India, as well as in other countries around the world, represents a serious health issue and decreases the quality of life. AI can contribute to take mitigation actions by providing location-specific air quality data and useful insights to authorities, industries, businesses, and citizens.