BT teams up with Vortex IoT to provide the clearest picture on air quality

Advertorial: Vortex and BT write about how collaboration between the two companies, academia and a local authority is creating exciting air quality innovations.

Brian Jackson, BT

Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK with up to 36,000 deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure (Public Health England, March 2019).

PHE modelling suggests if we reduce air pollution, over the next two decades we could prevent:

– 50,000 cases of heart disease

– 16,500 strokes

– 9,000 cases of asthma

– 4,000 lung cancers

The government’s latest set of appraisal tools indicate that the health impacts of not delivering on the UK’s emission reductions could be around £1.7bn per annum by 2020 and £5.3bn per annum by 2030.

Authorities are already working to reduce nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3) and particulate matter (PM) in the worst areas, taking the lead from Defra’s Clean Air Strategy.

Funded by the £220m Clean Air Fund, projects including Clean Air Zones (CAZs), Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and Smoke Control Areas (SCAs) have been running for some time and further government directives are continually being issued to expedite improvements in ambient air quality.

However, worrying headlines are getting louder:

– Soot pollution particles ‘cross the placenta’ September 17 2019.

– Pollution hotspots website could drive down London house prices (up to 20%) 17th September 2019.

– Billions of air pollution particles found in hearts of city dwellers July 2019. Exclusive: study shows associated damage to critical pumping muscles, even in children.

– Defra threatens Bristol with legal action over CAZ for second time August 12 2019.

The Environment Bill confirms accountability lies with local authorities, with UK clean air policies setting targets to reduce short-term, high-pollution episodes and long-term exposure to lower levels of pollution.

PM2.5 concentrations across the UK need to be reduced so that the number of people living in locations above the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline level of 10 μg/m3 is reduced by 50% by 2025.

Legislation is a driver for local authorities and poses a financial risk – the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) can take the UK to court and has the power to impose multi-million euro fines. In future, the independent Office for Environmental Protection, expected to be operational from January 1 2021, will continue this and be able to take enforcement action

More importantly though, what can local authorities do to ensure their local population has cleaner air to breathe and what, and how, is it measured and managed now? At the moment, formal reporting on air quality is carried out based on the hourly and daily data from the Automatic Urban and Rural Network (AURN) which has 226 sites nationwide.

These produce certified precision data, but at relatively low data resolution (15 mins or hourly). It’s expensive to buy and maintain, needs dedicated power and is quite obtrusive. Authorities also collect data from diffusion tube sites – plastic tubes that absorb gases before being sent to a lab for analysis.

These are cheap and easy to deploy, but collection and analysis are expensive and results can take months and don’t reflect variations in hourly or daily conditions.

Both these methods monitor air quality in the immediate footprint of the device, but don’t give real-time results for a wider area where people might be. They give delayed, spot data, which doesn’t help the management of, or prevent the exposure to, pollution when and where it matters.

What is needed is real-time areawide data reporting on NO, NO2, O3 and PM levels. Authorities can then manage the source of emissions, warn against exposure and, conceivably, start enforcement action against the  polluter.

And by integrating new sensor technology with existing infrastructure, it isn’t expensive. Over the last 25 years, most urban centres have operated a CCTV network for community safety and traffic management.

Staff in the control room are connected to what’s going on, with their command & control system raising alerts as events happen or thresholds are crossed. This team is well-placed to monitor and manage more.

By linking a mesh network of air quality sensors along streets or boundaries over the existing CCTV network to the command & control system, the team can be alerted to air pollution as it happens and do something about it.

The result? Traffic flows can be altered, polluters identified and the public made aware of routes and areas they should avoid. Surveillance Solutions from BT and Vortex IoT are making this real.

Adrian Sutton, Vortex.

Working with Swansea Council and Swansea University on an Innovate UK funded project, the two companies are deploying air quality and parking space detection sensor networks throughout Swansea and connecting them, using the existing CCTV network, back to the City Council.

For the project, Internet of Things (IoT) company, Vortex IoT, has designed an award-winning innovative multi-gas and air particulate monitoring sensor device for hyperlocal deployment.

The device is fully automated and designed for deployment into smart city settings and harsh environments. Battery-powered or connected to direct power supplies, using mesh networking, the system will transmit data to the server every five minutes. The Vortex monitoring system has enormous potential for air quality control in not only harsh environments, but urban ones too and can link real-time air quality data to the CCTV footage to see if certain vehicles, or the weather, is having an effect and causing pollution peaks.

Surveillance Solutions from BT has been delivering new services like air quality monitoring for some time. Services are overlaid on to the existing CCTV infrastructure, leveraging the investment already made and adding more value.

Other overlay services include free public space WiFi, flood detection alarms and, more recently, 5G mobile cell sites. Cities already have SAFE infrastructure for CCTV (Cameras, Fibre & Mobile Networks and the command & control, as well as the people who manage it).

Overlaying this with the SMART services such as air quality monitoring is a major step forward in delivering a better community to live, work, visit and learn as well as generating more bang for buck from the CCTV infrastructure.

The delivered services are secure, resilient and robust, just like the surveillance services running at the same time over separate channels. Making it digital means not only can you take advantage of higher quality cameras, but you can also capture masses of intelligence from ‘the edge’ – whether it’s video analytics to count people, build demographic profiles, count parking spaces and profile vehicle types or live data from a local network of sensors.

Integrate that information into the command & control dashboard and it becomes the intelligent hub for your ‘Smarter City’. City operators will have the means to be able to directly improve air quality by managing areas as pollution thresholds are approached.

Surveillance Solutions from BT is working with local authorities to connect sensors directly, or on local mesh networks, to monitor patterns of air quality, flooding and noise.

Sending the data to the control room for possible action will help underpin cities becoming safer, healthier and smarter. Working together, Surveillance Systems from BT and Vortex IoT are excited to bring this disruptive and innovative value-add proposition to existing and new customers to address one of society’s current biggest issues — air quality.

About VortexIoT: Vortex IoT already works with a range of customers such as Tata Steel and local authorities deploying air quality management (AQM) sensors.

It has also secured a contract with FIFA to provide AQMs across stadiums in Qatar in preparation for the FIFA World Cup 2022. For more information about Vortex IoT visit or follow Vortex on Linkedin, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram.

About Surveillance Solutions from BT: Surveillance Solutions from BT is an end-end surveillance solution integrator with over 25 years track record, providing devices, street furniture, control room fit-outs and command & control systems with 24 x 365 support and hosting services. For more information about BT Surveillance Solutions visit



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