Infomercial: Better cabin air quality for everyone

It took 30 years and over a billion dollars to save a minority of high-end car owners from breathing in stale air while driving. Now we could all get the same health feature for a fraction of the cost.

Air pollutants on the road aren’t going away anytime soon, despite the trend towards electrification of light-duty vehicles. Although we are exposed to the worst pollution in our cars, the air quality in the passenger compartment is not yet regulated. Some steps have been taken over the years to improve the situation. For example, on-board air quality sensors (AQS) have been used for 30 years on high-end cars to control the air intake. Over $1 billion has been spent on this feature, but over 90% of car users still don’t have it.

A recent multi-city study compared cabin air quality improvements achieved with AQS to those achieved using real-time air quality maps. The results are striking: the new map-based method outperforms the standard AQS-based method.

The discovery opens the door to implementing this health-enhancing feature on any car without being limited by the cost of AQS.

The feature can also be implemented on unconnected cars, using a smartphone app connected to the vehicle via Bluetooth. The smartphone receives real-time updates from the cloud map server and issues flap position recommendations to the vehicle. Like Google maps anticipating traffic speed, the new solution anticipates pollution in front of the vehicle, causing the air intake flap to close to keep the most polluted air away. Since the trajectory of the car is often not known in advance, a predictive trajectory algorithm was developed for the study. It identifies a car’s most likely path at any time, based on its location and direction.

The study showed average reductions in cabin pollution between 35% and 60% depending on road conditions and blower fan speed.

The high-resolution air quality maps were created by collecting AQS data from approximately 50 vehicles in each city for over a year. The cost of data collection was only a fraction of typical costs for other air quality mapping efforts.

It is estimated that data from less than 0.02% of cars in circulation would be sufficient to map air quality with the spatio-temporal resolution required in all developed cities.

Only about 50,000 cars with onboard AQS would be needed for the United States, or for the 6 largest European countries combined. The method is therefore scalable worldwide at a realistic cost. Global mapping could be done by a single automaker or by one of the ridesharing companies, and could benefit hundreds of millions of car users.

This new advanced car function will help reduce the health consequences of heavy urban traffic pollution, resulting in significant societal benefits for minimal investment.

For more information, please contact Hervé Borrel at [email protected] or visit

Photos courtesy of

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