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Mak's AirQo Project is a US$1.3m Google AI Impact Grantee

  • In Research News
  • 8 May 2019 - 6:40pm
  • By Proscovia Nabatte
  • 2,140
The DVCFA-Prof. William Bazeyo (Centre) flanked by AirQo Project Lead-Dr. Engineer Bainomugisha (Left) and Ag. Manager Communication and International Relations-Dr. Muhammad Kiggundu Musoke (Right) addresses the Media during the Briefing on 8th May 2019, CoCIS, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda

Google has announced Makerere University’s AirQo Prototype among the best 20 Artificial Intelligence projects that will share $25 million in grants from Google.org. AirQo is an air monitoring project that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and low-cost technologies to generate and quantify data on air pollution in the designated areas in Uganda.

“The data collected is used to inform public policies on reducing, containing and better management of air pollution and its associated health risks. The same data is also used to raise awareness on air quality issues,” said Dr. Engineer Bainomugisha the Project Leader during a press conference held on Wednesday, 8th May 2019. Dr. Bainomugisha is also the Chair, Department of Computer Science, College of Computing and Information Sciences (CoCIS), Makerere University.

The AirQo Project is run by a team comprising students and staff from the Department of Computer Science, School of Computing and Information Technology, CoCIS. The project was successfully developed in 2016 with the aim of contributing to the improvement of urban ambient air quality.  It tested and validated a robust, low-cost air monitoring device and algorithm.

With limited funding and support, the project was implemented in places within Kampala and other urban places of Mbale, Manafwa, Bundibugyo and Bududa. According to Dr. Bainomugisha, the required data on air quality within the aforementioned areas is collected through the integration of the AirQo device with a Mobile application.

Dr. Engineer Bainomugisha (Right) shows Prof. William Bazeyo (Left) the AirQo Mobile App that gathers data from the 50 sensors deployed Nationally. The App is available for download on Google Play Store.

“We receive data on the air quality of specific places through a mobile App that is installed on our phones. In areas that are hard to reach we have used the Artificial Intelligence to make predictions based on data collected so far.  We also work with Boda boda riders by installing the AirQo device on their motorcycles to help us reach various places for data collection,” he explained.

Mr. Paul Green, a member of AirQo Project team said that the device is useful in determining the air conditions of institutions such as schools and hospitals. “AirQo can be very beneficial for school children especially those with allergies,” he said.

The AirQo project team will receive a US$1.3million grant to scale up their existing air quality monitoring coverage and to make use of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve forecasting accuracy, raise awareness of air quality issues and inform public policy making in this critical area. As a grantee of the Google AI Impact Challenge, the team will receive credit and consulting benefits from Google Cloud and coaching by Google’s AI experts.

“We are thrilled to be receiving a grant from Google.org to support the AirQo project. With little resources, we have demonstrated that it is possible to build and deploy a robust network of low-cost air quality monitors across Kampala city. The Google grant will make a huge difference to our project and allows us to truly scale up the network up to become an effective resource for all Ugandan citizens and policy makers,” said Dr. Bainomugisha.

The AirQo Project Team (Standing) receives a round of applause from the audience recognising their efforts

Representing the Vice Chancellor Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Finance and Administration), Prof. William Bazeyo acknowledged the tremendous work done by Dr. Bainomugisha and his team in developing an innovation that tackles community challenges.

“You have joined the line of prominent people whose deeds have left Makerere University shining. With your skills and knowledge, you have raised the institution’s flag high to be recognized by international organizations,” he said.  

Prof. Bazeyo congratulated the AirQo project team upon receiving the Google.org grant to scale their innovation. Noting the increasing population density in the country, Prof. Bazeyo said, “Our population as a country is rapidly increasing and as such additional pressure is being exerted on our cities. Air pollution is one of the biggest threats in this regard. This timely innovation is no mean achievement in as far as utilizing research and technology to the improve lives of our urban population is concerned.”

Prof. Bazeyo also noted that AirQo’s innovation would provide valuable data to the Makerere University Lung Institute; one of two specialists institutes of its kind in Africa.  

The Principal CoCIS-Prof. Tonny Oyana (Right) and Deputy Principal CoCIS- Assoc. Prof. Agnes Rwashana Semwanga (Left) at the Press Conference to announce the US$ 1.3m Grant awarded to AirQo.

The Principal CoCIS, Prof. Tonny Oyana applauded Dr. Engineer Bainomugisha and his team for the persistent hard work that has fruitfully led to an international award and recognition. “With this new funding expert support from Google, the project is going to be seamlessly scaled up,” he said.

The Google AI Impact Challenge was an open call to nonprofits, social enterprises, and research institutions from around the world to submit their ideas that use AI to help address societal challenges.  2,602 applications were received from 119 countries and 40% of applications received came from organizations with no prior AI experience.

Google.org president, Jacqueline Fuller said: “At Google, we have seen how AI can help us accomplish daily tasks and travels, and we believe in its potential to help address some of the world’s biggest humanitarian challenges. We are excited to support Makerere University’s AirQo project work to use AI to achieve even greater social impact.”

Next week, representatives from the AirQo project will travel to San Francisco to dive into execution. For five days, all 20 organizations will join Google AI experts, Project Managers and the startup specialists from Google’s Launchpad Accelerator for a program that will last six months, from May to November 2019. Through the Launchpad program, each of the 20 grantees will develop their own OKRs— Objectives and Key Results and set timelines for project completion. Each organization will be paired with a Google expert who will meet with them regularly for coaching sessions. They will also have access to other Google resources and expert mentorship.

Article by Nabatte Proscovia, Mak Public Relations Office

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