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Fighting air pollution through the use of data

"You cannot manage what you don't measure," says Frank Felten, Chief Product Officer of the European company Hawa Dawa. We spoke to him at the Greentech Festival Berlin to understand how smart cities use data to improve the lives and health of their citizens – and explain what investors should look out for.




Even though the world has experienced significant progress in the management and control of air pollution as a pressing global challenge, it remains one of the greatest scourges of the modern world. The adverse impact of air pollution is not only reflected in the current climate crisis, but it also poses a threat to ecosystems as well as individual and public health. As a result, the world is seeing an increase in mortality and morbidity rates. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution causes about 7 million deaths annually. Ground-level ozone, particulate matter, and nitrogen dioxide have been classified as major pollutants with a significant effect on human health. In 2020, for example, reports from a U.S. research team indicated a 9 per cent increase in mortality among Covid-19 patients with increased exposure to harmful air pollutants.

One primary way in which the WHO and other health organisations such as the European Environment Agency (EEA) aim at solving this problem is by setting regulatory limits for air pollutants. Although these standards exist and are often revised, especially dense cities continue to struggle with creating better air quality for their residents. Nearly 90 per cent of the residents of European cities breathe air saturated with pollutants at a concentration that is higher than the recommended air quality standard designed to protect human health.

A cursory look at current global challenges such as the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic reveals a dire need to channel resources towards managing air quality.

Information is key for the smart cities of tomorrow
Even though the definition of a smart city is constantly evolving to keep up with technological advancement, it can simply be described as a place that leverages technology to boost sustainability, service levels, economic development, and residents’ welfare.

The amount of data gathered and analysed can be a basis for determining smart cities. And so a number of creative companies have dedicated themselves to making our cities smarter - and more liveable.

Turning air quality data into actionable insights
Hawa Dawa, for example, is a Munich- and London-based company that aims to push environmental data into the mainstream of decision-making. Or as Frank Felten, Hawa Dawa’s Chief Product Officer, likes to point out: “You cannot manage what you don’t measure”. The company’s products give cities access to full coverage and real-time data on air pollution through the use of digital technology, Internet of Things sensors, and artificial intelligence (AI).

Once the sensors have been distributed across the city, a software measures the concentration of the most important pollutants in the air and complements existing measurements if necessary. Felten explains: “Our company utilises sensor technology through two principal methods. The first is an optical method used for particulate matter, while the second is electrochemical and is used for gases like NO2. Our sensors gather information that is later calibrated on the back-end with artificial intelligence.” Hawa Dawa’s dashboards use artificial intelligence methods to calculate area-covering and high-resolution images of air quality in conjunction with other sources such as the current weather, satellite and traffic data. The data sets can also be shared with other units, such as for example traffic control.

What investors should look out for
In a ‘smart’ city, everything will be connected: traffic lights, street lights, buildings, roads and even the self-driving cars using them. Data will be collected by an armada of sensors and cameras spread around the city, gathering information about traffic, temperature, air quality and humidity, both inside and outside.

Amid an increasing focus on resource efficiency, we see digital infrastructure as a structural growth story. But classic infrastructure and building technology also provide interesting investment opportunities around our Future Cities theme.


Which megatrends should be reflected in your portfolio?

> Contact us to learn more

About the Greentech Festival Berlin

Nico Rosberg, the 2016 Formula 1 champion, became Julius Baer’s brand ambassador in 2021. In 2018, alongside two co-founders, Rosberg launched the annual Greentech Festival, now a leading platform for green technologies, ideas and products. The objective is to showcase some of the most forward-thinking sustainable innovations and create a global community of change-makers and innovators. As Excellence Partner, we interviewed Frank Felten at the Greentech Festival 2021.

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