USD 3 million Google grant takes Makerere’s AirQo air quality monitors to 5 African countries

Joel Ssematimba, AirQo’s Embedded Systems Engineer installing an AirQo Air Quality Monitor at Jinja City Hall
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Makerere University’s air quality monitoring project AirQo, has secured a USD 3 million grant from Google, […]

Makerere University’s air quality monitoring project AirQo, has secured a USD 3 million grant from Google, to expand its air quality monitoring footprint to ten cities in five countries across Africa. The grant is part of the USD40 million that has commited to support local innovators in Africa.

In addition to supporting the deployment of additional low-cost air quality monitoring devices to more urban centres in Uganda, the funding will see the Makerere University developed devices installed in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and Rwanda.

Measuring air quality is still a challenge for most cities in Africa because they cannot afford the high costs of equipment needed to measure air quality. African-led initiatives such as AirQo are seen as a sustainable solution to measuring air quality.

According to the World Health Organisation WHO, air pollution contributes to the slightly over 7 million premature deaths that occur annually across the globe. In Uganda, ambient air quality levels in monitored urban centres are estimated to be over 5 times the WHO’s 2005 annual guidelines with over 30,000 people dying annually due to air pollution-related illnesses.

AirQo is a product of Makerere University’s College of Computing and Information Sciences. It seeks to contribute to the improvement of urban ambient air quality by developing and deploying low-cost air quality monitoring networks.

The air quality monitors use cloud-based Artificial Intelligence models and software to generate data that is used to inform decisions that can lead to reduction of urban air pollution and the associated health risks.

So far, the project has deployed slightly over 100 locally-built low-cost air quality monitoring devices across Kampala and other Ugandan cities. AirQo’s digital platforms, are providing communities with information about the quality of the air they breathe.

Project lead Professor Engineer Bainomugisha, described the new funding as a big milestone that will ensure that more African cities have increased capacity and access to the evidence they need to raise awareness and tackle air pollution.

“We will be empowering more African cities with information on the quality of air which will in turn help authorities develop policies and take actions to combat air pollution in their respective countries and cities. Our vision is to ultimately achieve cleaner air in cities across the African continent,” Prof. Engineer said.

Speaking during Google’s first-ever Google for Africa virtual event on October 6, Alphabet and Google Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat, said the new funding round will see the AirQo project expand the pioneering work on Artificial Intelligence and sensors from Kampala to 10 new cities to tackle air pollution, a leading cause of premature deaths.

“The $40 million in funds will build on Google’s work and help find more partners who are responding and innovating to challenges they see first-hand in their communities,” Porat said.

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