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Ugandan researchers develop low-cost sensors to track air pollution

Joel Ssematimba, hardware developer in a low-cost air quality monitoring system called AirQo, checks new devices being calibrated at a workshop at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, May 27 2022. Picture taken May 27, 2022. REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa

KAMPALA: Ugandan researchers have developed low-cost air quality monitoring sensors that work in extreme conditions and will enable Uganda to replace expensive imported monitors in its bid to tackle air pollution growing.

Uganda’s capital Kampala, home to two million people, ranks among the most polluted cities in the world, with pollution levels up to seven times higher than World Health Organization safety standards, according to the Global air quality report 2021.

Engineer Bainomugisha, who is leading the research at Makerere University in Kampala, said the team had been motivated by the rising death toll from air pollution around the world.

Pollution remains the world’s biggest environmental threat to human health and in 2017 was responsible for 15% of all deaths worldwide, according to a report by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) .

“This (pollution death count) really opened my eyes…to come up with technological solutions and how we could help improve air quality,” Bainomugisha said.

About 28,000 people die each year from air pollution in Uganda, according to GAHP.

The AirQo air quality monitoring project, which is partly funded by Google, relies on a network of sensors, which costs $150 a piece, to collect air quality data around Kampala .

Using artificial intelligence technology and machine learning, this data is then processed before being uploaded to a cloud-based service accessible to consumers and the public through a smartphone app.

Kampala, where major sources of pollution include dust from unpaved roads, use of wood fuels, vehicle and industrial emissions and open burning of solid waste, previously relied on quality monitors air mostly imported from the United States at around $30,000 each.

The equipment, which required expensive maintenance, often broke down because it was not designed specifically for the local environment, city officials said.

Bainomugisha said AirQo’s monitoring devices are installed throughout the city, including in schools, residential areas and on motorcycle taxis.

Designed to withstand conditions such as extreme heat and dust, the devices are powered by both grid electricity and solar power to allow them to operate when the power supply is interrupted, it said. he declares.