Dr Mingming Liu
Project lead Dr Mingming Liu speaks at an event at the Insight Centre at DCU. Credit: Kyran O'Brien

DCU researchers reveal commuter clean air travel app under development at Insight SFI Centre

A new app in development at the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics at Dublin City University could offer pedestrians and cyclists a 17.87 per cent reduction in pollution exposure, initial tests have shown.

A recent investigation by the Guardian newspaper revealed that 98 per cent of Europeans are breathing highly damaging polluted air linked to 400,000 deaths a year. A report published by the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday found that air quality in Ireland is generally good despite some concerning localised issues in cities and towns. By commuting to work by bike or on foot, commuters could be breathing in high levels of pollutants; extended exposure to nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide can leave pedestrians and cyclists at risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems. In addition, microscopic particles in exhaust fumes have the ability to penetrate deeply into the respiratory system when inhaled, leading to coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Recent research has indicated that individuals living in more polluted areas are at a greater risk of developing chronic illnesses such as asthma, allergies and cancer. These associated health issues cost the Irish state approximately €2.3 billion a year.

The Insight SFI Centre team at DCU used data analysis; refining and supplementing the publicly available Google Air Quality dataset for Dublin; to build a database capable of suggesting green travel routes for those travelling the city.


Those Commuting to work on foot or by bike could be exposed to high levels of pollutants. Credit: Kyran O'Brien

Primarily intended for cyclists sharing the road with cars, users can enter pollutants they wish to avoid into the app. User preferences are then fed into an algorithm which calculates a route using the dataset. Users are then shown their quickest, and least polluted, routes on an interactive map.

The team carried out a number of experiments using the app and found that in most cases, the rate of pollutants avoided exceeds the rate of distance increase. Ultimately, the app offers a viable trade-off between reducing pollutant inhalation and the increase in trip distance.

The team set out on this project intending to positively impact public health and encourage more people to make more sustainable travel choices without compromising their own health.

Dr Mingming Liu said

“Promoting active transportation modes such as walking and cycling over fossil-fuelled vehicles is critical in encouraging people to move towards greener transportation options. However, at present, active transportation users such as walkers, runners and cyclists have very limited awareness of the pollution levels in their surroundings, making them susceptible to various health risks while walking or cycling on the roads.”


The work has been accepted by the IEEE ITSC conference taking place this week in Bilbao. PhD student Sen Yan will present this work at the conference today (Tuesday 26 September 2023).

Dr Mingming Liu is an Assistant Professor in the School of Electronic Engineering at DCU, and a funded investigator at the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics. This project involved a multi-disciplinary team including Insight CEO and DCU professor Noel O’Connor, Sen Yan, Shaoshu Zhu, Jaime B. Fernandez, Eric Arazo Sanchez, ´ Yingqi Gu, and David O’Connor.


Primarily intended for cyclists sharing the road with cars, pedestrians can also enter pollutants they wish to avoid into the app. Credit: Svetlana Damjanac

The Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics is one of Europe’s largest data analytics research organisations, with over 450 researchers, more than 220 industry partners and €150+ million in funding. Its research spans Fundamentals of Data Science, Sensing and Actuation, Scaling Algorithms, Model Building, Multi-Modal Analysis, Data Engineering and Governance, Decision Making and Trustworthy AI.

Insight is made up of four host institutions at DCU, University of Galway, UCC and UCD. Insight’s partner sites are Maynooth University, Tyndall, TCD and UL. www.insight-centre.org