Using drones to monitor air pollution

Sustainability problem: Public Health

Large cities are facing increasing levels of air pollution, which causes severe respiratory issues and public health problems. Identifying with precision the main sources of air pollution is essential to design and enforce effective policies to reduce it.

Technology solution

  • Scientists from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health are working with the School of Engineering to develop a platform for measuring air pollution using drones. Also, in this crowdfunding website another group of scientists from Eastern Michigan University are rising money for a similar project.
  •  The basic idea is to attach lightweight and low power pollution sensors to remote controlled multi-rotor drones, in order to collect samples and information on air quality and toxic gases for later analysis in a lab.
  • This technology would enable the monitoring of air conditions in a city, and control polluting levels directly at the source where many of the emissions are happening, like industries, coal plants or residential wood-burning heating.

Organizational stakeholders

  • City government
  • Department of Health and Sanitation
  • Citizens
  • Industry

Implementation steps

  1. Develop air pollution sensors suitable to be attached in a drone, which have to be lightweight and with low energy demand.
  2. Test the drones in a known pollutant facility, where a static sensor should be installed near the source of pollution to compare results.
  3. Partner with City Government and the Department of Health and Sanitation to deploy a fleet of drones to monitor pollution in a specific industrial area of the city.


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5 thoughts on “Using drones to monitor air pollution

  1. This will enable testing the air quality in areas that are not usually easily accessible. It is also a cost efficient way to analyze the air quality, so that more of the available funds can be spent on the research and development of solutions which will help improve the air and thus also the health of the population


  2. This would be an interesting technology to watch out for. However, the question that comes to drones is how expensive will this be compared to traditional air pollution monitoring technology? Also, how often will these drones need to be sent out in the air? How far up will the drone fly? Will it be feasible in a city like New York with it’s tall buildings?


  3. This is an interesting idea, and it will allow people to monitor the air quality in remote areas. Instead of bringing the sample back to the lab, it would be better if the sensor can send the result to the central monitor remotely.


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