Ensuring Better air quality for sustainable cities
March 2022 Dimos Kothris,
IoT & Smart City Solutions Expert, Telco & Enterprise Software

Georgia Loukidou,
Senior Big Data & AI Product Marketing Engineer, Telco & Enterprise Software

Introducing Air Quality Monitoring in Belgrade

The city of Belgrade is considered as one of the most polluted capitals in Europe facing prolonged and serious air pollution issues. Responding to this pressing challenge, Belgrade’s environmental protection agency issued an international open tender with the aim to combat the growing problem especially in "stressed" areas in and around the city. Intracom Telecom answered to this great challenge & was recently awarded this significant contract to provide an air quality monitoring & forecasting solution for the city. The solution is expected to help the city of Belgrade to achieve a better situational awareness of air pollution in areas of interest, fortify its ability to respond with proactive measures to safeguard public health and last but not least, support the creation of a cleaner and sustainable environmental strategy for the future.

Air pollution: A global health threat
Figure 1: The complex mechanisms affecting air pollution

Air pollution is not a problem that only the Republic of Serbia is struggling with; it remains a key challenge for many developed and developing countries and is part of the wider environment crisis which remains a growing and profound threat affecting the wellbeing of billions of lives and ecosystems around the globe, with many man-made and natural causes.

A review from the global burden of disease (GBD) recently showed that it is one of the top ten risk factors for health globally, resulting in seven million deaths worldwide each year according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. WHO has also classified air pollution as the leading environmental cause of cancer, whilst a grim prediction made by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that it will also be the top cause of environmentally related deaths worldwide by 2050.

The challenge in the City of Belgrade

In 2020 the Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) of Serbia reported that hazardous particle matter concentrations (PM2.5 & PM10) were found in many cities to be above the allowed limits (number of days with excessive concentrations). Along the same lines, the European Environmental Agency mentioned in a recent report that the exposure of the urban population to particle matter concentrations in Serbia was two times higher than in the EU.

As a result, Serbia ranks very high in Europe for pollution related deaths. The facts that have emerged from such reports, highlight the importance of reliable monitoring of air quality and the need for interventions to reduce the burden of air pollution in Serbia.

The project objectives

Monitoring and modelling air pollution reliably is a challenging task that requires taking into account many parameters and complex environmental interactions that affect pollutant concentrations and their dispersion in the air. Thus the collection and processing of large and diverse data sets and the ability to model accurately and robustly such phenomena are key considerations and innovation milestones in Intracom Telecom’s solution, which has been designed to address several key project objectives:

  • Track in real time a wide variety of air quality & environmental parameters, pollutants & related indexes and identify emerging trends
  • Support alignment with National and International/EU regulations
  • Empower informed preemptive measures (e.g. health warnings) to safeguard public health by leveraging air quality forecasts and reports
  • Measure the effectiveness of environmental campaigns (e.g. public incentivization)
  • Support the design of environmental goals & policies for a healthier future.
Addressing the need for air quality monitoring

The comprehensive solution that Intracom Telecom is deploying to meet the needs of the City of Belgrade combines powerful features from two of its key products, namely uiTOP™ and Cognitiva™ , both of which are to be hosted and seamlessly integrated on its cloud infrastructure. The architecture of the solution is shown in the figure below.

A wide network of specialized air quality measurement stations (in the form of containers) are supplied, installed and configured by project partner Ecomaks Solutions, who is a distributor of air and water quality control equipment in the Balkan region. The stations are equipped with an extensive number and variety of specialized devices, including meteorological sensors, analyzers for continuous measurement of sulfur, nitric and carbon oxides, ozone and suspended particles (PM10 & PM2.5) among others. Each station also contains a data logging system which collects and stores data from the various instruments and transmits them to the central platform via a cellular network.

The data streams coming from the measurement stations are initially received and processed by Intracom Telecom's flagship Unified IoT Orchestration Platform (uiTOP™ ). uiTOP™ implements a horizontal IoT layer enabling management and control of Intelligent things from different vertical domains such as Smart Lighting, Smart Parking, Waste Management, Environmental Monitoring, Smart Health, Transport, Energy and Utilities.

It leverages powerful open APIs enabling communication with a wide range of sensors and devices as well as the creation and hosting of smart applications. For the specific project, uiTOP™ is tasked with data ingestion and storage, integration with 3rd party systems (i.e. weather services) and secure user access.

uiTOP™ also provides the main web-based UI environment with advanced capabilities including interactive maps, time-series graphs, heat-maps, device grouping, custom alarms and analytics, with emphasis on providing authorized users with an intuitive and easy application environment to work with.

Air Quality Index (AQI) visualizations and reporting examples

uiTOP™ is also responsible for feeding the Cognitiva™ system with appropriately formatted environmental data, so that the latter can generate future air quality predictions. Cognitiva™ is an application suite which is capable of employing advanced AI/ML techniques to make sense of data that are accumulated by organizations, empowering them with action based insights and reports. For the needs of the project, Cognitiva™ is configured to derive short-term (24 hours) and mid-term (next 4 days) forecasts for the Air Quality Index (AQI) and individual pollutant concentrations. Given the need for enhanced forecasting accuracy, advanced Machine Learning models based on XGBoost (Extreme Gradient Boosting), LSTM (Long Short-Term Memory) Networks and ARIMA (Auto-Regressive Integrated Moving Average) have been adapted to account for each pollutant and station separately. Forecasts are produced daily and sent back to uiTOP™ for visualization, alarms and report generation.

In the current phase of the project the system is being fine-tuned to meet customer specific requirements and several measurement stations are being deployed at sites of interest. The solution is expected to be operational in 15 sites within Q1 of 2022, with additional deployments planned within the same year.

Solutions for every city's environmental challenges

Intracom Telecom’s offering is designed to address all requested business, operational, and technical requirements of the City of Belgrade for air pollution management and be ready to cater for future needs in terms of expansions or the introduction of new sensors or features. The use of social, population or traffic data may be evaluated in the future to further enhance the forecasting accuracy if required. Last but not least, the uiTOP™ platform, with its open and flexible architecture, already powers a noise monitoring solution in Serbia, while it may support any additional smart city vertical solution required.

Intracom Telecom's air quality monitoring and forecasting solution is part of a wider environmental solution portfolio supported by a strong ecosystem of partners, having been selected by several cities in South Eastern Europe and beyond, to efficiently address the environmental challenges they face.