Air pollution is a colossal environmental health threat that, according to the WHO, kills 7 million people and costs the world economy five trillion USD each year. With over 80 per cent of the world’s population living in urban areas exposed to unacceptable levels of air pollution, more needs to be done. However, data-driven decision making is challenging due to expensive equipment, limited ability to analyse data and unsuitable interventions.
Breeze Technologies is a startup that was founded in Hamburg, Germany in 2015 to tackle this very issue. The company mission is to use sensors to help create transparency on air quality and offer sustainable ways to improve it. Breeze aimed to do this by deploying a low-cost air quality monitoring system to enable data-based interventions. From the very beginning, the company turned to Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to enable it to collect and evaluate data in a scalable and secure way. Now, it’s using Azure’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to improve the solution and add even more value to its customers.
What Challenges Was Breeze Technologies Facing?
To deliver an air quality monitoring solution, Breeze technologies develops small, low-cost sensors that can be installed in any location. The sensors measure pollutants like soot, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter and identify their sources. A local portal then publishes the data in real-time, enabling residents to learn about the current situation. The company then advises on several measures that communities can take to help improve air quality.
Breeze’s sensors are much smaller and less expensive than conventional measuring stations, enabling them to be used in far more locations, but just as accurate. While this is a point of differentiation, however, the real difference is the ability to not only accurately measure harmful substances, but then immediately upload the data so it can be viewed and acted upon in real-time.
From the beginning Breeze decided to use Azure cloud to process its network of sensors. However, while still relatively young, the company has seen significant growth and all signs point to this continuing. They have hundreds of sensor locations, tens of thousands of measuring points and a large and varied customer base. While Azure has given them a scalable solution that will be able to manage rapid growth in terms of locations and customer types, the company wants to be able to do more.
Breeze already uses state-of-the-art measurement and evaluation tools and techniques, but the company is always looking for ways to innovate further. The founders now want to take the project to the next level with the help of AI. The quality of the data their sensors can capture is limited with the company’s existing sensors; AI would give them the opportunity to enhance the accuracy of their measurements.
How Azure is Helping Breeze in its Mission
As we’ve touched on, Azure has been helping Breeze Technologies deliver its solution from the outset. By using Azure alongside its range of sensors, the company has been able to:
- Automatically update all sensor data.
- Present data transparently on a citizen portal in real-time.
- Deliver self-service customer access to data and analytics.
- Help customers translate data into actionable insights.
- Support customers in choosing from over 3,5000 air pollution control measures.
However, to harness the potential of AI, it needed to move all of its measurements to Azure Cloud. The company transferred everything from quality assurance to plausibility checks to calibration. From there, Breeze was able to set up its own AI experimental laboratory.
By using AI in the cloud, the company has been able to:
- Further enhance the accuracy of measurements.
- Pool all measurements in Azure Cloud and use cloud calibration to deliver higher data quality.
- Filter out disruptive factors such as sensitivities to environmental influences and device-specific measurement errors.
- Develop solutions to obtain more precise measurements and detect problems earlier.
- Convert data into new scientific variables using calibration technology on Azure Functions.
- Generate final measurements based on various statistical methods supported by AI.
The Future Potential of Azure
With the AI lab set up, Breeze is able to experiment as to how to add even more value. They already have predictive maintenance technology in the pipeline, with Azure enabling them to send out automatic notifications when sensors need to be serviced or replaced. They’re also looking at incorporating weather data and traffic volumes to predict air quality on specific days. This would then give municipal authorities the opportunity to offer discounted public transport on those days, directly counteracting the anticipated rise in air pollution. AI will also be used to help streamline Breeze’s consulting service, accurately calculating which measures will best improve air-quality at any given location.
Breeze Technologies wants to make air quality data available to other industries, believing that there is no limit to those who could benefit from it. In fact, Microsoft is now supporting the company as part of its AI for Earth Initiative. Microsoft’s program, aimed to help researchers and organisations use AI to develop environmental solutions, is enabling the company access to not only the Azure Cloud Platform, but it’s innovative AI tools.
Could Azure Help Your Business?
Whether you have multiple sensors, use IoT devices or simply collect customer information, no doubt your business has a lot of data. However, data only has real value when it can be converted into actionable insights. Microsoft Azure can help your company achieve that, by delivering scalable, secure cloud technologies and AI capabilities that will enable you to innovate and prepare for the future.
To summarise, here are the challenges, the solution and the results that Breeze Technologies experienced:
- Challenges – Breeze Technologies is a Germany-based startup company that develops low-cost air quality sensors. The company used Azure from the outset, enabling it to process its network of sensors, publish data to a real-time portal and advise its customers on ways to improve the situation. However, it wanted to innovate further, using artificial intelligence to improve the accuracy of its sensors and solutions.
- The solution – to harness the potential of AI, Breeze Technologies moved all of its measurements to Azure Cloud. This has enabled them to set up an AI experimental laboratory. All measurements are pooled in Azure Cloud where calibration delivers higher data quality. Azure enables them to eliminate disruptive factors and provide more precise measurements. Meanwhile, Azure Functions converts the data into new scientific variables with final measurements generated based on AI-supported statistical methods.
- Results – Breeze Technologies has already seen huge success; it has hundreds of sensor locations, tens of thousands of measuring points and a hugely varied customer base. With Azure, they have a scalable solution that will be able to grow on-demand. Meanwhile, the AI lab they have created is enabling them to add even more value such as predictive maintenance, the incorporation of meteorological data and a more accurate consultative service.