Big data analytics company Teralytics claims to have discovered a way to leverage mobile network data to estimate levels of air pollution in cities.
Teralytics, which was founded by a team from science, tech and engineering university ETH Zurich, completed the research in Nuremberg, Germany. The team was assisted by Telefónica Next, the IoT data analytics arm of telecoms company Telefónica, and climate change experts at the South Pole Group.
The group examined aggregated and anonymized call, text and internet browsing data from mobile devices using Telefónica’s mobile network.
Once collated, Teralytics refined the raw data to map out human mobility patterns. This enabled the team to understand how often people use various modes of transport, such as cars, buses or trains.
To achieve this, the company told Internet of Business that it combined the anonymized mobile data with secondary data, including public transport timetables and analysis of travel speed, to ascertain the mode of transport used.
By combining this data with the emissions data from the 1.2 million transport routes, the South Pole Group used an atmospheric model to estimate air pollution levels. The model took into account meteorological data and information on the respective traffic carriers’ emission levels from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUB).
The accuracy of the method was examined by comparing the findings with existing data from air pollution measuring stations, which indicated that the team had successfully estimated the levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the city of Nuremberg with up to 77 percent accuracy.
Taking on the challenge of emissions pollution
The results were described as encouraging by Teralytics, particularly because it lowers the cost of analyzing and interpreting data compared with the higher cost of production and maintenance of elaborate air pollution measuring stations.
The findings will be of particular significance for those countries that have signed up to the Paris climate change agreement, which commits all nations involved to keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“While our contemporary urban lifestyles result in the generation of harmful greenhouse gasses, it also generates large amounts of behavioral data,” said Georg Polzer, CEO of Teralytics.
“Our findings from Nuremberg showed that this data can be used to give city planners insights into how human mobility contributes to pollution. This is a vital part to efficiently design and implement clean air and low carbon strategies. We are looking forward to further exploring this opportunity.”
Following this success, the team has secured financial support from Climate KIC’s Low Carbon City Lab (LoCaL), an initiative that brings together cities, business, academia and NGOs to deliver high environmental and societal impact.
The companies plan to use the funding to expand and improve the research methodology, with a focus on on short travel routes. It will also incorporate external factors such as a congestion and other local emissions from places like airports.
“The pilot project in Nuremberg has clearly shown the specific added value of anonymized mobile network data for the environment,” said Florian Marquart, MD of Telefónica NEXT for Advanced Data Analytics.
“This is data from people, for people. We see great potential in the results and will start the next phase of our research. The goal is to develop a product that German cities, German states and the German federal government can use to better face the challenges of emissions pollution.”