29th September 2023: A prototype app in development at the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics at Dublin City University could offer pedestrians and cyclists a 17.87 per cent reduction in pollution exposure, initial tests have shown.

A recent investigation by the Guardian newspaper revealed that 98 per cent of Europeans are breathing highly damaging polluted air linked to 400,000 deaths a year. By commuting to work by bike or on foot, commuters could be breathing in high levels of pollutants; extended exposure to nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide can leave pedestrians and cyclists at risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems. In addition, microscopic particles in exhaust fumes have the ability to penetrate deeply into the respiratory system when inhaled, leading to coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Recent research has indicated that individuals living in more polluted areas are at a greater risk of developing chronic illnesses such as asthma, allergies and cancer. These associated health issues cost the Irish state approximately €2.3 billion a year.

The Insight SFI Research Centre team at DCU used data analysis; refining and supplementing the publicly available Google Air Quality dataset for Dublin; to build a database capable of suggesting green travel routes for those travelling the city.

Primarily intended for cyclists sharing the road with cars, users can enter pollutants they wish to avoid into the app. User preferences are then fed into an algorithm which calculates a route using the dataset. Users are then shown their quickest, and least polluted, routes on an interactive map.

The team carried out a number of experiments using the app and found that in most cases, the rate of pollutants avoided exceeds the rate of distance increase. Ultimately, the app offers a viable trade-off between reducing pollutant inhalation and the increase in trip distance.

The team set out on this project intending to positively impact public health and encourage more people to make more sustainable travel choices without compromising their own health.

“Promoting active transportation modes such as walking and cycling over fossil-fuelled vehicles is critical in encouraging people to move towards greener transportation options,” said Dr Mingming Liu, Assistant Professor in the School of Electronic Engineering at DCU, and a funded investigator at the Insight Centre. “However, at present, active transportation users such as walkers, runners and cyclists have very limited awareness of the pollution levels in their surroundings, making them susceptible to various health risks while walking or cycling on the roads.”

PhD student Sen Yan will present this work at the IEEE ITSC conference taking place this week in Bilbao https://2023.ieee-itsc.org/.