Posted by John Vassallo 
Vice President, EU Affairs

Earlier this week Microsoft joined with the European Environment Agency to launch a compelling example of how Microsoft’s cloud computing technology can be a real ‘change maker’ in the fight against climate change.

As part of our on-going partnership with the EEA to combine cutting-edge technology and environmental data,

we have expanded the EEA’s Eye on Earth portal by adding AirWatch, a new service which will provide air quality information to more than 500 million people across Europe.

This project is an extension of the first phase of Eye on Earth, which launched in May 2008 with WaterWatch, an extremely useful service that allows Europeans to look up a particular beach or lake, check the water quality from official monitoring stations and rate the water quality themselves.

The goal of Eye On Earth is simple: To engage Europe’s governments and citizens in the use of real-time environmental information and to boost interest in the environment. I believe this site is a great practical application of data-driven decision making:  Direct collection of data through local sensors that allow citizens to comment and pass judgement on their environment on the spot. Give it a try! Make your voice heard.

AirWatch takes the concept of WaterWatch one step further by allowing users to search by location and get an indication of the current air quality anywhere in Europe, not just in the proximity of measurement stations. It does this by tapping into air quality information that is based on Europe-wide modelling that covers large areas. The impressive number of water and air quality sites that are up and running shows us all how serious the European Environment Agency is about protecting the environment and updating the public on a real time basis. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for this initiative.

This is not only a great tool but also potentially a lifesaver for those people who suffer from respiratory illnesses such as emphysema.  Then, once the user arrives at their chosen location, they can give their own rating and description of the air quality.

AirWatch is also designed to be as accessible as possible, so regardless of what technology platform or device you use, from your desktop computer to your mobile phone, you can check and rate the quality of the air, anywhere across Europe.  Furthermore, if you haven’t got time to ‘log on’ you can simply send a text message requesting the latest update for your chosen location.  It’s also designed with social media in mind, so once you’ve checked and rated the air where you are, you can share the results on Facebook,Twitter or with your buddies on IM.

 

From a technology point of view, this project really demonstrates the power of Windows Azure and the potential of cloud computing.  With a project such as Eye on Earth, reliability and accessibility are imperative. However, load rates are very unpredictable.  On a sunny day, many people may want to check the quality of the water at the local beach.  However, on a foggy day, they may be more concerned with air quality in their city.   In a locally hosted computing environment, such surges can put tremendous pressure on the system.  By switching such services to ‘the cloud’, it’s straightforward to scale capacity up or down depending on the flow of inquiries into the system.

AirWatch and WaterWatch also demonstrate the power of Bing Maps.  By allowing users to intuitively search for a specific location, zoom in and then rate the air or water quality, all within a single interface, Bing truly enables ‘accessible content’.  This type of application is extremely compelling to policy makers, since they can quickly and easily make comparisons between areas and track air and water quality over weeks, months and years.  EyeonEarth also makes it easy for outside agencies, such as health services or traffic planners, to extract this information and use it to inform their planning and policy making.

Our partnership with EEA is a powerful example of public and private organizations coming together to share their different expertise to achieve a common goal, in this case enabling a  new dialogue and access to environmental information for Europe’s 500 million citizens.