This post is part of our Future of Smart Cities series which interviews the leading founders and executives who are on the front lines of the industry to get a better understanding of what problems the industry is facing, what trends are taking place, and what the future looks like.
1. What’s the history of Aeroqual? Where and how did you begin?
CB: We were founded in 2001 by current CTO Geoff Henshaw and Professor David Williams. They were deep into heated metal sensor technology and whilst living and working in London, started to think about how such sensors could be used to gather information on air quality across a city. It’s fair to say that David and Geoff had a big idea that the world was not yet ready for.
So, the first product they commercialized was a handheld device used for measuring ozone in health and safety and process control. But the research community got hold of the product and realized what an amazing ozone sensor it was. That led to a whole range of cool projects measuring ozone outdoors. Fast forward a few years, and one of our customers asked if we could make a complete air monitoring station. That led to the creation of our flagship AQM 65 product. In recent years we have moved back to our original vision as IoT, smart cities, and big data have opened people’s eyes to the potential for distributed sensing to deliver fresh insights and applications in air quality. The fact that the U.S Environmental Protection Agency chose to sign a five-year R&D agreement with Aeroqual to accelerate air sensor technology really shows how far we and the industry have come.
2. What specific problem does Aeroqual solve? How do you solve it?
CB: The current equipment used to measure outdoor air quality is expensive, bulky and difficult to operate. Consequently, a city can only have a few such stations, which means that trying to understand the air quality where you live is guess work. Sensors are cheap, small, and easy to deploy, and have great potential. But so far, most real world applications have shown mixed results. Sensors are not very sensitive, they can be unstable, and are subject to cross-interferences (i.e. they respond to things they aren’t supposed to measure). Aeroqual leads the way making sensor-based air quality devices that harness the benefits of sensors and produce reliable data.
3. What’s the future of smart cities?
CB: Air quality sensing fits well with the vision of the smart city, providing information about a city that was not previously available and allowing people to make decisions that can improve the quality of their lives. The main benefit is the smart city network.
The network has three things a high density air quality sensing network needs: poles, power and communication. Smart lighting is taking off right now, and we’re seeing huge interest in attaching air sensors to smart lights. They make good mounting poles, have power readily available, and can be fitted with a sensor hub that has a range of wired and wireless communication options. Then, you have a high bandwidth network to deliver data back to a centralized server. Smart cities are a great fit for what we’re doing, and we’re very excited about it.
4. What are the top 3 technology trends shaping cities of the future?
CB: Sensors, IoT platforms, and big data science.
Trend #1: The cost of sensors is coming down dramatically and the quality is going up at a similar rate. Speaking for air quality sensing, we’ve seen huge improvements in the quality of PM2.5 sensors, for example. These are sensors that measure particulate matter, a key air pollutant. Now, you can buy an off-the-shelf sensor for $20 that performs pretty well against an analyzer which costs 1,000 times the price.
Trend #2: IoT can help get data to where it needs to be cheaply, and gives users remote access to the sensors for diagnostics and servicing. This is important because you don’t want to be driving round in a van servicing a network of thousands of sensors.
Trend #3: A network like that produces huge amounts of data. We are building a network of 100 sensors in LA that will be kicking off 250 million data points per year. Automated tools are needed to validate the data, fuse it with other datasets (in the case of air quality, meteorological data and emissions data is important), and then present it in a way that’s useful for a given application.
About Carl Beck
Environment, technology, growing companies: the three common themes of Carl Beck’s career to date. Working at the confluence of clean tech, smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT), Beck believes that better information about our environment can help us live better lives and leave behind a better planet.
As Vice President, Commercial, Beck leads the product, marketing, business development, and tech support teams at Aeroqual. That means working with an international and interdisciplinary team of people who create new products, bring them to market, and support them in the field.