Our DAS fibre optic sensing technology has proven itself in a pioneering UK air quality project – winning us a prestigious FOSA award. FOSA’s inaugural premier member awards recognise innovation in the field of fibre optic sensing, and we are overjoyed to have been recognised with the Project of the Year accolade for a novel application of DAS in The Air Quality Simulation Project led by Staffordshire County Council.
Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) technology has already demonstrated its worth in transport applications and now improving air quality can be added to the list.
A World-First for Fotech
The Air Quality Simulation Project is an initiative to build a comprehensive model of traffic patterns in both directions for 1km at the busy A52 / A520 Cellarhead crossroads in Staffordshire. The purpose of this model is to gather data on traffic flow that can be used for calculating vehicle emissions. This data can then be used to find ways to manage traffic with the aim of improving air quality.
DAS technology was key to the success of the project, effectively monitoring traffic and gathering data. This is the first time DAS has been used to manage traffic flow to reduce emissions and to improve air quality. The potential for reducing pollution will be immense if standard telecommunications fibre optic cables and DAS technology are integrated across multiple junctions in entire cities.
The project is part of the SIMULATE Live Lab program Air Quality Challenge funded by the UK’s Department of Transport. As well as Staffordshire County Council, we have worked alongside Keele University, Amey, and industry specialists Catapult Connected Places.
Machine Learning for Detailed Data
It is no exaggeration to say that we are living in an era where data is a valuable commodity that has the power to transform the world.
It was not simply a matter of the fibre optic cables calculating raw traffic numbers. Vital to the success of the DAS technology in this project was special machine-learned algorithms we developed, which were able to detect and, crucially, to classify traffic accurately, with a high degree of confidence.
Thanks to the algorithms, the technology easily distinguished between different vehicle types, such as cars and light- and heavy-duty vehicles, and gathered data on their arrival at the junction. The information plays a powerful role in developing smart traffic control algorithms that can be used to schedule the junction’s traffic lights in a way that reduces acceleration and deceleration. This keeps vehicles moving more freely, especially the heavier polluters, cutting emissions caused by stop-start traffic.
Real-Time Analysis, Real-World Results
One of the main benefits of DAS technology in this project was its ability to provide real-time data that can be used to make real-time changes to traffic light phasing and improve traffic flow.
Standard telecommunications fibres were coupled with DAS data – and it is anticipated that this combination of technology could reduce emissions significantly, creating a positive effect on public health.
Reducing emissions and improving air quality has far-reaching health and economic benefits. In the UK, air pollution is the top environmental risk to health, as well as being the fourth-greatest overall threat to health after cancer, heart disease and obesity. From an economic standpoint, it is estimated that in the UK, the current cost of poor air quality is between £22.7 billion and £71.1 billion[i].
There is a serious push worldwide to move from petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs) – and this will no doubt have a positive impact on reducing NOx and CO2 emissions – but the emissions elephant in the room is the problem of arguably more serious PMx emissions.
These particulate emissions could potentially increase with the growing uptake of EVs because these vehicles are generally heavier and cause more wear and tear to tyres and road surfaces. The potential for DAS monitoring to control traffic flow, to keep vehicles moving smoothly and to prevent unnecessary braking is enormous when it comes to curbing these often-forgotten emissions.
[i] University of Oxford and Bath (2018).Clean Air Day. 1. Oxford: The University of Oxford, p.5
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