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Air Quality Monitoring for Sustainable Systems via

Drone Based Technology

Josefa Wivou and Lanka Udawatta Ali Alshehhi, Ebrahim Alzaabi, Ahmed Albeloshi and
Faculty of Engineering Technology & Science Saeed Alfalasi
RAK Campuses, Higher Colleges of Technology Department of Mechanical Engineering
United Arab Emirates. RAK Mens Campus, Higher Colleges of Technology
lanka@ieee.org United Arab Emirates.

AbstractWe propose a novel system that collects air With an Ecological Footprint index of 1.2 in 2011, UAE
sampling field data for a given location in 3D space. A drone stands high hence demand for sustainability should be
mounted with relevant components for air quality measuring is adequately addressed. Significant sectors of the global
deployed. Data collected from the system will be efficiently economy that use energy are industry, residential, commercial,
transmitted to the storing and monitoring devices. Knowledge of and transportation. The first case study completed in April
existing air pollutants levels and patterns are taken into 2010 by the Ministry of Environment and Water Office [2]
consideration in order to analyse a given situation. Data will be revealed that the household sector is the main contributor to the
stored in cloud storage for further analysis and record keeping. UAEs Ecological Footprint at 57 percent followed by business
Results show the effectiveness of the proposed methodology.
and industry at 30 percent then the government at 12 percent.
KeywordsAir quality; data collection; drones; pollution In comparison, Fig. 1 shows the key global greenhouse gases
levels; sustainable systems. emitted by human activities in 2010 [3]. Here, fossil fuel use is
the primary source of CO2 and it is the main concern at the
moment although a slight decline has been recorded in 2015.
The discovery of oil and gas in the Gulf region has
enormously contributed to the development of the region from
a harsh desert environment to a modern day, competitive
lifestyle with its high rises and technological applications. In
fact, the United Arab Emirates is one of the foremost countries
in the region when it comes to modern day expansions. With
this rapid growth and modernization, it is necessary to evaluate
the environmental effects that contribute to the global health
matters. Recently, concerns have been expressed both
nationally and internationally on air quality. Factors like
increased population, industrial activities and traffic emissions
have contributed to an unhealthy and unsafe environment.
In January 2015, The National newspaper of UAE reported
that the UAE released 199.65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide
and other greenhouse gases in 2013. Electricity and water
generation accounted for the bulk of emissions at 33 percent. Fig. 1. Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Courtesy of US Environmental
Road transport accounted for 22 percent, while oil and gas Protection Agency)
sector accounted for 15 percent. Although it showed that the The worlds CO2 emission fell in 2015, however, it should
countrys overall contribution to climate change is not be celebrated yet. For global awareness, it is yet to be fully
insignificant, it has a high per capita rate. embraced by all for its courses and consequences that lies
Previous studies on the indoor air quality by William E. ahead. The events that has taken place contributing to this
Funk and et al [1] showed that the indoor air quality in the slight dip is of global significant importance. Fig. 2 shows the
UAE was within the range of other indoor air study findings in slight dip of CO2 global emissions from fossil fuel use and
developing countries. This study was designed to monitor industry [4]. Literature has revealed that since 1990 nitrogen
outdoor air quality at selected zones with particular interest in dioxide has been monitored from space and there has been an
bigger cities and heavily populated industrial zones for upward trend of high emission particularly in major cities
emissions directed towards Carbon monoxide (CO), Nitrogen around the world over the period 20052014 in which Fig. 3
dioxide (NO2), Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter shows Tropospheric NO2 level over the Middle East [5].
(PM10). Pollutants targeted were selected based on common Recent study by J. Lelieveld and et al [6] revealed the abrupt
exposures that occupants in the UAE would encounter. trend changes in the atmospheric nitrogen dioxide over the

978-1-5090-6132-7/16/$31.00 2016 IEEE

Middle East resulting from the large use of fossil fuel and other protects public health globally and be sustainable [10].
combustion processes that affect air quality and climate According to a WHO assessment of the burden of disease due
variations. to air pollution, more than 2 million premature deaths each year
can be attributed to the effects of urban outdoor air pollution
and indoor air pollution (caused by the burning of solid fuels).
More than half of this disease burden is borne by the
populations of developing countries [11]. In this research, we
proposed to mount the air quality (AQ) measuring sensors on a
drone as shown in Fig. 4 and be navigated to the selected zone
or location for data collection.

Fig. 2. CO2 Global emissions from fossil fuel and industry (Courtesy of US
Geological Survey)

An outdoor ambient real-time air quality monitoring system Fig. 4. Sensor mounted Phantom III drone on a data capturing mission.
was designed in [7]. This system has the capability of sensing
the concentration of O3, NO2, CO and H2S and transmitted The rest of the paper is organized as follows. In Section II,
back to the backend server through the GPRS wireless proposed methodology in collecting different emission levels
communication link in every minute. The earth and its using drones is presented. Data capturing and transmitting with
atmosphere increasingly faces the challenges of sustaining a desired sensors are given in Section III. Results obtained from
healthy environment for the future, a problem created and the proposed system are presented in Section IV. Finally,
brought about by human activities [7-9]. Some of these conclusions and further development opportunities are
concerns for example the repair of the ozone holes have been explained in Section V.
dealt with but others needs to be addressed. While the UAE is
taking the steps to monitor and record its emissions to reduce II. METHODOLOGY
the gasses like carbon-dioxide pollution. In fact, initiative is Gathering of air pollution data in real time and storing them
taken to team up with the rest of the world and address the in a database for further use would be the key step in
issues to ensure sustaianability for the future generations. developing an Air Quality Management (AQM) system. There
are various gasses which are contributing to current air
pollution in the world. Different countries and organizations
have their own standards in order to control these pollutants to
reduce the risks and effect on the environment. In general,
complete air quality management system consists of sensing of
desired emissions, data collection and transmission, storing,
data analysis, predictions and taking safety measures if
Drones or Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become
one of the worlds most publicized and fascinating
technologies that can be employed to collect data in a given
outdoor environment. Fig. 5 schematically shows the concept
diagram for collecting data using a drone mounted with
relevant components for air quality measuring and storing data.
Fig. 3. Tropospheric NO2 over the Middle East [5] The system includes a) Drone and its remote control with
Collecting of data samples for a selected location can be a camera and display screen b) sensors and microcontroller, c)
challenging task particularly with local authority laws and real time reading and data storage on cloud, d) real time display
limitations. The World Health Organization (WHO) air quality on mobile devices e) monitored and viewed from anywhere
guidelines (AQGs) are intended for worldwide use but have round the world. Finally, stored data is analyzed, displayed on
been developed to support actions to achieve air quality that various monitors and presented for stakeholders and other
concerned parties for appropriate responses. How these data Apart from the gases in Table 1 [11], there are other category
will be utilized depends on the local government authorities, of gasses which are contributing to the greenhouse effect
interested bodies in partnership with global environmental including water vapor, Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous
agencies to meet the agreed standards. oxide. There are numerous number of pollutant gasses and
other elements emitted by human activities and natural sources.
However, in this study, the gases to be monitored is limited to
four types and the use of respective sensors for detection is
shown in Fig. 6 to enable demonstration of the proposed

Fig. 5. System concept for collecting data using a drone mounted AQ sensors
Fig. 6. Data capturing systems installed in the drone.
There are different sensor technologies for detecting
various gases like ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur Calibration of these sensors has been a challenging task
dioxide (SO2), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) due to the complexity and safe environment to perform the
and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) [13-14]. Recent much needed procedural tests and verifications for the gases to
developments in sensor technology have made it possible for be monitored. For the purposes of this prototype, the existing
its use in various applications with improved capabilities. The system concept, readings were sufficient to fulfil the needs of
six common pollutants and their health effects are summarized establishing the communication protocols. In partnership with
in Table 1 below. It has been put to good use in this study in the specialist and secure laboratory the new recommended
combination with the drone and the latest communication sensors will be calibrated, tested and validated for use in the
systems to enable real time data capturing. Moreover, Fig. 4 final artifact. Arduino microcontroller as shown in Fig. 7 is
shows sensor mounted Phantom III drone on a data capturing used in data processing system. All the sensors are connected
mission while transmitting the data as explain in Section III. to the processor through analog pins for display as well as data
Data capturing locations under a given contour can be storage transmitted to the Blynk server (cloud) by a mini-
programmed and data will be transmitted. Once the data points modem capabilities for further anlysis.
are acquired, landscaping for a given emission can be obtained.


Symbol Substance Effect
CO Carbon Reducing oxygen delivery to the
Monoxide bodys organs and tissues
NO2 Nitrogen Risk of emphysema, asthma and
Dioxide bronchitis diseases
O3 Ozone Chest pain, coughing, throat
SO2 Sulfur Risks of bronchoconstriction and
Dioxide increase of asthma symptoms
PM2.5 & Particulate Premature death and respiratory
PM10 Matter symptoms
Pb Lead Accumulate in bones and
affecting the nervous system
Fig. 7. Arduino UNO for data processing
Earlier study showed that there is an upward trend in the In this experiment, we deployed the drone with carbon
emissions for some cities which can be observed from the monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), smoke and methane
graph in Fig. 8 for those selected cities monitored and most of (CH4) gas detecting sensors. We received the real time data and
it that comes from the burning of fossil fuel [4]. Up till 2014, had it displayed on TV screen as shown in Fig. 9 for a vertical
Kuwait, Tehran, Karbala, Beirut and Tripoli had a noticeable flight. In fact, the system can compare the world standards of
upward trend. However, this may have been addressed since air emission levels established by different countries and
then where latest figures are yet to be published. The United regions. Following Table II shows the three different standards
Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven Emirates that provided by the United States Environmental Protection
spans approximately 83,600 km2. However this setup is Agency (EPA), World Health Organization (WHO) and the
currently experimented in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and European Commission (EC) [11] for different emissions.
it can be used nationally and internationally.
For the purpose of this study basically three MQ type TABLE II. DIFFERENT STANDARDS OF SIX COMMON POLLUTANTS.
sensors were used for monitoring carbon monoxide (CO), Gas EPA WHO EC
carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) due to the availability 3
of these components at the time of building the prototype. CO 9 ppm (8 h) 10 mg/m (8 h) 10 mg/m3 (8 h)
After successfully establishing the system performance and NO2 100 ppb (1 h) 200 g/m3 (1 h) 200 g/m3 (1 h)
obtaining the intended data, a new system is in progress with
alpha type sensors contributing to the reduced payload of the O3 75 ppb (8 h) 100 g/m3 (8 h) 120 g/m3 (8 h)
unit hence more flight time. Sensor real time reading is SO2 0.5 ppm (3 h) 20 g/m3 (24 h) 125 g/m3 (24 h)
processed through the Arduino Uno microcontroller and stored PM2.5 12 g/m3 (1 y) 10 g/m3 (1 y) 25 g/m3 (1 y)
on Blynk server (cloud) while being displayed on the mobile
application and base station unit with GPS, vision positioning PM10 150 g/m3 (24 h) 50 g/m3 (24 h) 50 g/m3 (24 h)
system, 3- axis stabilized camera, long range live view and 4K Pb 3
0.15 g/m (3 m) 3
0.5 g/m (1 y) 0.5 g/m3 (1 y)
video recording options capabilities. Data history can be
retrieved as and when needed for analysis and displayed on
screens. As backup data is also saved on flash drive as part of
the system upgrade. Now that the system is fully operational
further development will include extended scope of emission
detection for sulfur dioxide (SO2) and other particulate matter.

Fig 8. NO2 column densities over 16 cities in the Middle East Fig. 9. Online data monitoring screen of a mobile device.
V. CONCLUSIONS Alhajeri, Yousef Altamimi, Ahmed Alnuaimi, and Hamad
In this study, an attempt has been made to establish a Alhebsi. Finally, we would like to express our special thanks of
gratitude to the Ras Al Khaimah Colleges management team,
platform for the collection of air pollution information and its
in particular, Dr. Hassan Almheiri, Director of RAK HCT
analysis. The UAE hopes to provide a model for energy and Colleges, Dr. Amjed Majeed, Dean of Academic Operations
environmental sustainability. Leadership is encouraging and and Dr. Nitin Afzulpurkar, Engineering Program Chair for their
promoting the implementation of groundbreaking sustainable continuous support as well as Simon Hissem and Bryan
energy and efficient energy programs with commitment to Daniels for their valuable contributions.
reduce carbon and other emissions at all levels. It is also
committed to reducing emissions from flaring. The UAE aims
to change its carbon footprint by greening the desert. To
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