Google’s latest launch suggests Maps is becoming more than a navigation tool, as the company announces three new public APIs covering solar, air quality, and pollen data and predictions to address the world’s new climate reality.
Now, in addition to the company’s Maps, Routes, and Places APIs, a new “Environment” category will be joining the tech giant’s geographical tools, supplementing the estimated 50 million updates made to Maps each day in a combination of machine (read: AI) and environmental learning, according to Google.
Access to this data can help developers, businesses, and other institutions build more environmentally informed tools and services, Google explains. Air quality and pollen predictions might be used to help the public avoid health hazards, service those with respiratory illnesses or allergies, or even facilitate low-pollution activities. Google envisions the solar API in service of both businesses and consumers, creating more environmentally friendly buildings, accelerating rooftop solar installation, and mitigating carbon emissions, the company wrote in its announcement.
The APIs, announced at the company’s Cloud Next conference, are part of a company mission to “help individuals, cities, and partners collectively reduce 1 gigaton of their carbon equivalent emissions annually by 2030.” The APIs use both in-house and public data, as well as the company’s other geospatial tech, like Google Earth, Earth Engine, and the Environmental Insights Explorer.
“These products apply AI and machine learning, along with aerial imagery and environmental data, to provide up-to-date information about solar potential, air quality and pollen levels. With this technology, developers, businesses and organizations can build tools that map and mitigate environmental impact,” said Yael Maguire, vice president of Geo Sustainability at Google.
Assessing solar potential and performance
Inspired by the company’s 2015 foray into the world of solar, known as Project Sunroof, and a reported 60 percent increase in solar searches last year, the solar API provides data on rooftop solar potential for more than 320 million buildings across 40 countries, including the U.S., France, and Japan.
In order to build accurate renderings, the API uses a trained AI model to extract 3D information about rooftop geometry from aerial images. Combined with foliage and shade data, historical weather patterns, and local energy grid use and costs, the API reportedly can provide solar cost and energy use estimates. The project is a collaboration with Mona Lee, a direct-to-consumer solar company that uses similar AI-based projections.
“This technology allows homeowners to more quickly and easily install solar panels and contribute sustainable energy to the grid,” Google writes.
Tracking air quality to reduce pollution exposure
Following Google Maps’ addition of a worldwide air quality layer last year, the new air quality API expands this data offering to clients, adding robust air quality data, pollution heat maps, and pollutant details for more than 100 countries around the world. The API uses government monitoring stations, meteorological data, sensors, and satellites to provide both a local and universal index, Google explains.
Machine learning adds a predictive element to the air quality API, using live traffic information, congestion data, and car volume to estimate current pollutants in a given area.
Managing allergies through pollen data
Google also is launching its first pollen API, supplementing the air quality API data with specific, localized information on pollen counts in your area. It uses a machine learning model that estimates seasonality and daily pollen grains based on all major allergens, which reportedly can provide five-day forecasts for three plant types (weeds, grass, and trees) and 15 different plant species.
Pollen has a direct connection to the continued climate crisis. As global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels rise, plants also ramp up their production of allergenic pollen, contributing to a worldwide increase of seasonal allergens and longer allergy seasons as climate change continues. The pollen API provides localized pollen count data, heat map visualizations, detailed plant allergen information, and actionable tips for allergy-sufferers to limit exposure, Google explains.
“With these three new Google Maps Platform APIs,” Maguire writes, “businesses can access comprehensive and up-to-date environmental information to develop sustainability products and help people adapt to the impacts of climate change.”