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Italian Researchers Use Drones To Pinpoint Air Polluters

Researchers are sending remote-controlled aircraft into residential neighborhoods to figure out just who's burning what in their stoves or fireplaces.

Smoke-finding drone by E-Lite systems engineering
Smoke-finding drone by E-Lite systems engineering
Domenico Zaccaria

TURIN — Drones that buzz around our homes and "sniff" chimneys? That's precisely what Air Pollution Control — a research project making smart use of remotely piloted aircraft and advanced-sensor technology — has in mind as a way to monitor and hopefully reduce dangerous household emissions.

In Italy, on average, only 25% of air pollution comes from moving vehicles. Another 25% is the result of industrial settlements. But the biggest share— the remaining 50% — is directly attributable to domestic heating.

Air Pollution Control is a project developed by Ancitel Energia e Ambiente, a company that operates in innovation and sustainable development. The company collaborated with partners in the technological innovation fields of automation, drones and sensors, such as start-up E-Lite Systems Engineering, and with pollution-focused research centers like the state-run Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research (CNR-IIA).

"As far as vehicles are concerned, with the gradual switch to electric and methane systems, we seem to be on the right track. And regarding industrial plants, emissions are subject to continuous monitoring and verification," says Filippo Bernocchi, president of Ancitel Energia e Ambiente. "But the situation is out of control when it comes to private housing. The control units currently installed in urban centers provide specific data connected to the observation site, which does not consider the cumulative effects. This means the data we have does not refer specifically to the quality of the air we breathe."

The drone's "nose" can sense what escapes the control units.

A recent study by Innovhub, a company that carries out applied research and provides scientific advice, found that as many as 1,200 Italian municipalities are not yet using natural gas (primarily LPG, the least polluting fossil fuel) for domestic heating. Gas, unlike fireplaces and pellet stoves, does not produce fine particles, which are the most troublesome pollutant. The European Environment Agency says that Italy's fine particulate matter (Pm 2.5) kills 66,000 people every year.

It is therefore essential to be able to monitor the pollutants produced by our homes: This was the starting point for the researchers who created Air Pollution Control. In the town of Feltre, in the north-eastern province of Belluno, an experimental phase offering reassuring results: The drone's "nose" can sense what escapes the control units. With a 15-minute flight, it can map out 10 hectares of territory. The project will be officially launched by the end of 2019.

"Air Pollution Control was created to help municipalities control risks and improve air quality, especially considering the use of biomass in urban areas," says Ugo Rossi of E-Lite. "Thanks to networks of sensors on the ground and in the air, we not only can obtain data relative to pollution in a short time, but also identify where the pollution comes from. This allows municipalities to act in a targeted, effective and efficient manner."

This means that we will soon have the first listings of residential polluters, which will allow administrators, data in hand, to intervene at the sources and take measures to facilitate the transition to less polluting forms of domestic heating.

By cross-referencing the data with land registry information, it will then be possible to sanction those who insist on lighting stoves and fireplaces even against municipal rules or those who burn forbidden substances. Now is a good time, in other words, for everyone to start cleaning up their act.

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Murdoch's Resignation Adds To Biden Good Luck With The Media — A Repeat Of FDR?

Robert Murdoch's resignation from Fox News Corp. so soon before the next U.S. presidential elections begs the question of how directly media coverage has impacted Joe Biden as a figure, and what this new shift in power will mean for the current President.

Close up photograph of a opy of The Independent features Rupert Murdoch striking a pensive countenance as his 'News of the World' tabloid newspaper announced its last edition will run

July 7, 2011 - London, England: A copy of The Independent features Rupert Murdoch striking a pensive countenance as his 'News of the World' tabloid newspaper announced its last edition will run July 11, 2011 amid a torrid scandal involving phone hacking.

Mark Makela/ZUMA
Michael J. Socolow

Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States of America on Jan. 20, 2021.

Imagine if someone could go back in time and inform him and his communications team that a few pivotal changes in the media would occur during his first three years in office.

There’s the latest news that Rubert Murdoch, 92, stepped down as the chairperson of Fox Corp. and News Corp. on Sept. 21, 2023. Since the 1980s, Murdoch, who will be replaced by his son Lachlan, has been the most powerful right-wing media executivein the U.S.

While it’s not clear whether Fox will be any tamer under Lachlan, Murdoch’s departure is likely good news for Biden, who reportedly despises the media baron.

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