Google Maps now helps you find fresh air

Google Maps on both iOS and Android has a new layer of air quality that can come in handy when planning your next hike or bike ride in good times, or planning your escape from smog and smoke in bad times.

The new layer shows an Air Quality Index (AQI) overlay directly on the map grid using government data collected by agencies such as the EPA in the US to show how healthy the air is in general. Better yet, it also presents data collected from PurpleAir’s network of sensors to report hyperlocal conditions at street level. Clicking on the AQI readings scattered across Google Maps will give you more information about the health impacts of air quality, the time and source of the last reading, and links to more information.

PurpleAir’s relatively inexpensive sensors measure particulate matter using laser particle counters. “You basically shine a laser through the air and then the particles in the air reflect the light and the detector picks up those reflections,” explains Adrian Dybwad, founder of PurpleAir. The edge in 2020, when his company’s sensors became a popular way to track the smoke produced by catastrophic wildfires sweeping the West Coast. Last year, Google Maps added a wildfire layer to track the growing threat.

A PurpleAir PA-II outdoor air quality sensor.
Image: PurpleAir

In addition to PurpleAir, Breezometer is also involved in mapping hyperlocal air quality. Cowboy e-bike owners have been relying on the company’s data since early last year to avoid pollution on their commute. However, Breezometer uses complex models — not physical sensors — to achieve a claimed data resolution of 5 meters (about 16 feet).

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