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IBM Leverages Internet of Things to Tackle Air Pollution in Johannesburg

Image Credit: Wikimedia

IBM Research has announced a collaboration agreement with the City of Johannesburg and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to apply advanced technologies to help the city deliver on its air quality management plan.

Johannesburg is the economic hub of South Africa, generating 17 percent of the country's GDP. Originally established as a mining town, the city's mine dumps, residential and traffic emissions generated by the city's population of approximately 4.5 million people are largely responsible for the city's air pollution, IBM says, which includes ultrafine particulate matter particles — the most harmful to human health.

Building on IBM's global Green Horizons initiative, the partnership with the City of Johannesburg will leverage Internet of Things (IoT) combined with the analytical power of cognitive computing to provide insights and recommended actions to improve air quality and better protect the health of Johannesburg citizens.

Researchers from IBM's South Africa research lab will work closely with experts from government and CSIR to analyze historical and real-time data from environmental monitoring stations in the City of Johannesburg, with a long term plan to extend the project across the Gauteng province to include the City of Tshwane and the Vaal Industrial Triangle. The objective is to uncover greater insight about the nature and causes of air pollution, as well as model the effectiveness of intervention strategies.

In the second phase, the program also will be extended to include high-accuracy air pollution forecasting for planning and decision support and enable a proactive approach to air quality management.

IBM's Green Horizons initiative draws on innovations from the company's global network of research labs with contributions from leading environmental experts. At the heart of the initiative are air quality management systems which draw on vast amounts of environmental Big Data generated by thousands of sensors in environmental monitoring stations, traffic systems and meteorological satellites.

Cognitive technologies understand this data, and use it to tune a predictive model that shows where the pollution is coming from, where it will likely go, and what will be its potential effect, allowing more informed decisions about how to improve air quality.

Machine learning technologies ensure that the Green Horizon system constantly self-configures, improving in accuracy and automatically adjusting the predictive models to different seasons and topographies, IBM says. It blends various predictive models including traffic flow, weather forecasting, air pollution and economic data to help officials explore various 'what if' scenarios and better understand the consequences of certain actions, such as optimizing or changing traffic flows, relocating industry, switching to renewables and even introducing more green areas into the city.

Feeding on the experience of other cities around the world, Green Horizons' pollution forecasting and scenario modelling capabilities can also help city governments make informed decisions about the construction and location of future industry, power generation facilities and roads.

The new agreement builds on existing collaborations between IBM Research and the City of Johannesburg. In October, the two parties struck up a partnership to leverage IBM's Watson social media analytics capabilities to better understand the pulse of citizens towards the city's recent EcoMobility World Festival 2015 during which time people were encouraged to walk, cycle, car-share and use public transport as opposed to private vehicles..

In other air quality technology news, UK-based non-profit Deliver Change in July launched a campaign called “Let’s make air pollution visible,” which brought together businesses, policy makers and local groups to solve the problem of air pollution in the UK. During the campaign, Deliver Change piloted its air-quality monitoring network, AirSensa, to collect data on air pollution in UK cities. The AirSensa network consists of up to 10,000 air quality sensors across the whole of greater London, all privately sponsored by donors and local businesses.

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Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a sustainability strategist and storyteller on Edelman's Business + Social Purpose team where he works with some of the world's leading brands on corporate sustainability strategy and stakeholder engagement. With several years of… [Read more about Mike Hower]


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