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BREAKING: Makerere’s Air Quality Monitoring Innovation Wins $1.3m Google Grant

Google has Wednesday morning announced that Makerere University’s AirQo project, an air quality monitoring project at the Department of Computer Science, School of Computing & IT in the College of Computing and Information Sciences is one of the 20 projects that will share $25 million in grants from Google.org, credit and consulting from Google Cloud and coaching by Google’s AI experts as a grantee of the Google AI Impact Challenge.

The AirQo project aims to contribute to the improvement of urban ambient air quality by providing low-cost technologies including application of AI to quantify and inform policy to help reduce, contain and better manage air pollution and its associated health risks.

The project comes at a time of a huge public outcry over the Kampala’s air quality which experts say is six times worse than global standards.

The air pollution in Kampala is mostly caused by dust from unpaved roads, fumes from cars and open burning of waste.

How Makerere Won

The Google AI Impact Challenge was an open call to nonprofits, social enterprises, and research institutions from around the world to submit their ideas to use AI to help address societal challenges. Over 2,600 organizations applied.

The AirQo project will receive a $1.3 million USD grant to scale up their existing air quality monitoring coverage and to make use of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve forecasting accuracy, raise awareness of air quality issues and inform public policy making in this critical area.

Next week, representatives from the Makerere AirQo project will travel to San Francisco to dive into execution.

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For five days, all 20 organizations will join Google AI experts, Project Managers and the startup specialists from Google’s Launchpad Accelerator  for a program that will last six months, from May to November 2019.

Through the Launchpad program, each of the 20 grantees will develop their own OKRs— Objectives and Key Results and set timelines for project completion. Each organization will be paired with a Google expert who will meet with them regularly for coaching sessions, they will also have access to other Google resources and expert mentorship.

“We are thrilled to be receiving a grant from Google.org to support the AirQo project that aims to contribute to improved air quality in Kampala and other urban towns,” said Engineer Bainomugisha, Project Leader and Chair, Department of Computer Science, Makerere University.

“With little resources, we have demonstrated that it is possible to build and deploy a robust network of low-cost air quality monitors across Kampala city. The Google grant will make a huge difference to our project and allows us to truly scale up the network up to become an effective resource for all Ugandan citizens and policy makers.”

The Uganda National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), estimates that about 140,000 liters of fuel are burnt by idling cars every day worth 500 Million Uganda Shillings. Small scale industries also emit high levels of carbon.

Google.org president, Jacqueline Fuller said: “At Google, we have seen how AI can help us accomplish daily tasks and travels, and we believe in its potential to help address some of the world’s biggest humanitarian challenges. We are excited to support Makerere University’s AirQo project work to use AI to achieve even greater social impact.”

Relevance 

Air pollution in Kampala has increased in the last decade.

Exposure to contaminated air may narrow or block blood vessels and could lead to a heart attack, chest pain, stroke, or other respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and pneumonia.

Makerere Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe said the Google.org grant would allow the team to scale up this air quality monitoring innovation.

“Our population as a country is rapidly increasing and as such additional pressure is being exerted on our cities. Air pollution is one of the biggest threats in this regard,” said Nawangwe.

“This timely innovation is no mean achievement in as far as utilizing research and technology to the improve lives of our urban population is concerned,” he emphasised.

The College Principal, Prof Tonny Oyana said Dr. Bainomugisha has “successfully developed, tested and validated a robust, low-cost air monitoring device and algorithm,” adding, “With this new funding support, he is going to scaleup air quality monitoring coverage and apply AI to monitor, analyze, raise awareness and develop solutions to air quality issues in Uganda.”

Google.org, Google’s philanthropy, supports nonprofits that address humanitarian issues worldwide and apply radical, data-driven innovation to solving the world’s biggest challenges.

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