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Swiss startup collects environmental data from street to street

Urban residents everywhere complain about worsening noise and traffic. But how much is too much, how can you know the actual trends, and how can cities safeguard their ecological integrity and living quality through effective, evidence-based decision making?

A Swiss-based startup is equipping taxis and other public transport with microsensors to capture data on air quality, temperature and humidity, as well as road quality and noise pollution.

“We aim to offer a solution that delivers data with the versatility of a Swiss army knife,” says Sparrow’s Chief Operations Officer, Maxim Interbrick.

Sparrow says its data could support urban planning and interventions to protect the environment and residents’ health.

“It could also support participatory governance and citizen science, enabling residents to take up an active role in shaping the future of their cities together with city leaders,” says Interbrick.

A pilot project launched on 19 May with the Canton of Geneva “will enrich Sparrow’s historical data by scanning the city with 15 parameters, following our first seven-parameter trial run late last year,” he added.

Key takeaways from trial runs

Sparrow’s measurements are well calibrated with Geneva’s stationary measurement points, delivering equivalent data at those points, but measurements taken just 100 metres away can yield very different data. The company also observes significant differences in the readings taken by its microsensors at different locations across the city and at different times of day.

“More data points are required,” Interbrick says.We aim to collect data at the streel level 24/7, from every city street.” 

Startups devising local solutions to local challenges can be a driving force for innovation to create smart cities and communities. Around the world, many cities are seeking to align innovation with government action plans.

Sparrow aims to keep working closely with the Canton of Geneva, Swiss innovation agency Innosuisse, and Geneva’s university for agriculture, engineering and architecture, HEPIA, while also pursuing wider collaboration in other cities.

“Partnerships are essential to the growth of our business,” says Interbrick. “But our experience will also deliver valuable learnings around public-private partnerships in the smart city context.”

Cities are collecting a comprehensive set of environmental data as part of their self-evaluations with the Key Performance Indicators of the United for Smart Sustainable Cities Initiative (U4SSC).

“We think that Sparrow and other startups like us can help to support this data collection, to startups’ benefit and the benefit of local and national governments,” says Interbrick.

Engaging early in ITU standards work

Sparrow participates in the standardization work of ITU-T Study Group 20 (Internet of Things and smart cities).

Standardization is generally associated with more mature technology and business ecosystems. Sparrow, however, joined the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as an Associate member of ITU-T Study Group 20 in June 2020, before the launch of its first prototype.

“We see new value to be gained – and generated – by start-ups increasing their participation in standards development,” says Interbrick.

Soon after joining ITU, Sparrow proposed the development of a new ITU standard describing ‘a methodology for next-generation urban measurements’.

The draft standard will consider emerging solutions in a wide variety of contexts.

“This gives solution developers like Sparrow the opportunity to refine our solutions with the help of ITU members representing government, industry and academia,” says Interbrick.

Sparrow benefits from new reduced fees for startups and SMEs participating as Associate members. Learn more about the new fee structure here.

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