Makerere to monitor urban air quality, Google supports it with Shs 5bn

By Tonny Akankwatsa

Makerere University’s computer science department has won $1.3 million (about Shs 4.9 billion) in support to boost their project to track and forecast air pollution in major cities.  

The Institution, among others joins the list of 20 winners of Google Artificial Intelligence Impact Challenge 2019, an open initiative to fund non-profits, social enterprises and research institutions from around the world that use artificial intelligence (AI) to address societal challenges.  

The winners, selected from a pool of more than 2,600 applications, will get a combined $25 million, mentoring from AI experts at Google, credit and consulting from Google Cloud, and go through a new accelerator program. Each of the projects was assessed for impact, feasibility, and responsible use of artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence is the use of computer systems/machines to process collected or forecasted data to come up with solutions or processes that would otherwise be impossible or harder for the human brain.  

Under the project- AirQo, the department of computer science aims to develop low-cost tools and methods that can be used by city and regulatory authorities to do regular monitoring of air quality in urban areas.  

According to Makerere University’s lead researcher Dr. Engineer Bainomugisha, 50 air quality monitoring kits have already been deployed in Kampala and other urbanized parts of the country. The solar-powered air monitors, send data to their servers telling the pollution levels across the country.  

He said that the grant will help to scale up their existing air quality monitoring coverage and make AI a key tool to improve air quality monitoring, analysis, forecasting and awareness.  

“We are thrilled to be receiving a grant from Google to support the AirQo project that aims to contribute to improved air quality in Kampala and other urban towns. With little resources, we have demonstrated that it’s possible to build and deploy a robust network of low-cost air quality monitors across Kampala city,” Bainomugisha said.  

He gratified Google’s grant to make a huge difference to the project and allow it to truly scale up the network to become an effective resource for all Ugandan citizens and policymakers.”  

Next week, representatives from the Makerere AirQo project will travel to San Francisco to dive into the execution of the project. During the five days tech conference, all the 20 winning projects will join Google AI experts, project managers and the start-up specialists from Google’s launchpad accelerator for the program’s six months, from May to November 2019.  

World Health Organisation (WHO) report shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe in air containing high levels of pollutants. 91 per cent of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeds WHO guideline limits of 12.6 micrograms including Kampala. Air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people worldwide every year.  

Air pollution in Kampala is mainly caused by the burning of rubbish in the open, unpaved roads, and heavy toxic gases from vehicles.

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