The American city of Lafayette is installing 300 new Internet of Things air quality sensors to build a live picture of pollution across the city. The data will be posted online and streamed directly into existing third-party systems, allowing both public and private organisations to combine it with their own data for analysis. The project will spearhead an education drive across the city as authorities use the data in schools and universities to encourage STEM subjects, with the aim of growing the city’s nascent tech sector.
Results & Impact
Before the grant, Lafayette had only one air quality sensor: over the course of this project, it will install 300. The majority of these are yet to be installed, so the city doesn’t know how successful the project will be. By the end of 2017, when all of the sensors have been set up, organisations across the city will have access to real-time, street-level air quality data 24/7.
Lafayette Engagement and Research Network, Lafayette Consolidated Government, the University of Louisville in Lafayette, CGI, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
A partnership between the Lafayette Consolidated Government, the University of Louisville in Lafayette and CGI, an IT firm, will install 300 new air quality sensors across the city by the end of 2017. It will then set up an open data portal to present the results, with CGI developing an application programming interface (API) that will allow other organisations to directly synchronise the data collected by the sensors with their own systems. Outside organisations will be able to use the air quality data with their own data sets, and through this look for correlations which could win insights into their own services by correlating the data with their own. The partnership will use the project as a tool to improve data literacy throughout the city through school visits and presentations, while students at the university will be able to use the data in their own projects. This is part of a drive to develop the nascent technology sector in Lafayette, diversify the economy, and build the foundations for a future smart city program.
Lafayette, Louisiana, US
General public, city dwellers, young people
Cost & Value
Lafayette was awarded a grant of $40,000 from the EPA for the project.
Running since November 2016
LEaRN is operating on only a small budget of $40,000, so has had to shop carefully to purchase the different types of sensors and assemble sensor arrays, an installation of various different types of sensors. Lafayette was hit by a heavy storm in August 2016 and has had heavy rainfall at many points since then, so the city has had to take extra precautions to ensure that the sensors are weather-proofed. CGI has spent a lot of time and energy on securing the network of sensors from cyber attacks - a necessary precaution which has delayed the roll-out of the system.
Baltimore, Maryland was the second of two cities to win Smart City Grant funding from the EPA to install air quality sensors. Unlike in Lafayette, the Baltimore Open Air project is being run by a team from Johns Hopkins University. Led by Anna Scott, a PhD student in earth and planetary sciences, the team is designing their own sensor arrays and employing local manufacturers to assemble them, before using the sensors to build an open data portal. Similarly to Lafayette, the project team plans to use the sensors and network as an educational tool in local schools to help build data literacy and demonstrate the utility of careers in data to schoolchildren.
Lafayette is installing air quality sensors throughout the city to paint an accurate picture of its air quality for the first time in its history. Three hundred Internet of Things-enabled sensors will record data in real time, allowing the city to map air quality data online and synchronise it directly with third-party systems.
The project is being used to spearhead the city’s drive to encourage more children and students to study STEM subjects, and through this grow Lafayette’s tech sector.
The Lafayette Engagement and Research Network (LEaRN), a partnership of the Lafayette Consolidated Government, the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, and CGI, an IT company, will install the sensors across the city to monitor air quality to individual streets, then map this on an open portal for the public to access. Using the network, outside organisations will be able to absorb the data automatically and combine it with their own data for analysis.
“One of the things that occurred to me is how little data we really have on air quality,” said Carlee Alm-LaBar, Director of Planning, Zoning, and Development for the Lafayette Consolidated Government. “We had one sensor for the community prior to this happening, maybe two; we didn’t have an understanding of how this data varies across this community.”
In November 2016, a team from LEaRN entered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) run Smart City Air Challenge. With Baltimore, Lafayette was one of two cities in the US to be awarded funding of $40,000 to install air quality sensors in the cities. Since early 2017, officials from all three organisations have been planning how to set up and run the budget with tight budget constraints.
“Forty thousand dollars is not a lot of funding,” said Will Labar, the lead on the project for CGI. “We knew we needed to identify ways to build central platforms that were very low cost, and we also knew we wanted to create a lot of diversity in terms of the types of sensors we were using in those platforms.”
LEaRN have bought four different types of sensor to incorporate into single units to be placed across the city. These will monitor air quality and ozone level, alongside other metrics, in order to provide real-time readings at street level displayed via an open data portal and interactive map.
Through using an application programming interface (API), LEaRN will allow third parties to incorporate the air quality data directly into whichever systems they currently operate. Health authorities in the city have already expressed interest in the data.
“Since the data’s open, any interested party will be able to utilise it,” said Labar. “One of the parties that reached out to us is the healthcare system within Lafayette, and they’re really interested in overlaying this data with the health effects that they’re seeing around the community, to see what kind of correlation they might be able to make in order to be able to improve outcomes from a healthcare provider perspective.”
Beyond the primary impact of the system, the city is excited about the role the air quality sensors will play in the Lafayette economy. The economy of the city and the surrounding area is focused on hospitality, healthcare and retail jobs. Officials at LEaRN hope that the scheme will help spur a nascent technology industry and through this diversify the economy.
“The reason we wanted the intentional diversity of the sensors is because what we’re trying to create in Lafayette is a bit of a research lab for understanding the data quality,” said Labar. “From the city’s perspective, it’s a good case study for what the city’s going to look like as more and more devices like these are made available.”
Students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will be able to use the data as part of their studies, and officials from LEaRN are touring the schools in the city to showcase the technology. The system is to be used as a example as well as a resource, and through this, generate interest in technology jobs.
Four sensors have already been installed to be followed by 10 at the end of August. By the end of 2017, all of the sensors will be installed. In 2018, the city will collect the data and establish the network.
Securing the network from hackers has proved an arduous but necessary task for CGI. “I think our biggest challenge would be centred around really understanding the security model of how to set up a network of sensors of this type in a way that doesn’t present any security risk from an IT perspective,” said Labar. “Every time you deploy something on the internet, you’re putting out another potential point of vulnerability.”
Making sure the data will be used by the target groups and the public is the key issue. Simply making air quality data available is not enough if people aren’t made aware of it being there. “An interesting challenge is how you make such large volumes of data accessible to the everyday citizen in Lafayette, especially when you start to have that data down to a street intersection level,” said Labar. “It’s going to require outreach and strategy.”
(Picture credit: Flickr/Brian Bush)