Seasonal allergies can be a pain. And with climate change, we’ll have to prepare for them to get even worse. Already, the clouds of pollen this year have felt particularly potent. Google, in an attempt to help people account for this airborne inconvenience when embarking on outings and making travel plans, has added a tool called Pollen API to its Maps platform.
In an announcement this week, the company said that the feature would provide “localized pollen count data, heatmap visualizations, detailed plant allergen information, and actionable tips for allergy-sufferers to limit exposure.” Google also announced other environmental APIs including one related to air quality and another related to sunlight levels. (An API, or application programming interface, is a software component that allows two different applications to communicate and share data.)
These new tools may be a result of Google’s acquisition of environmental intelligence company Breezometer in 2022. Breezometer uses information from various sources such as the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, governmental monitoring stations, real-time traffic information, and meteorological conditions in its algorithms and products. And while notable, Google is not the only organization to offer pollen forecasts. Accuweather and The Weather Channel both have their own versions.
Google’s Pollen API integrates information from a global pollen index that compares pollen levels from different areas, as well as data about common species of trees, grass, and weeds around the globe. According to a blog item, they then used “machine learning to determine where specific pollen-producing plants are located. Together with local wind patterns, we can calculate the seasonality and daily amount of pollen grains and predict how the pollen will spread.”
Hadas Asscher, product manager of the Google Maps Platform, wrote in another blog post to further explain that the model “calculates the seasonality and daily amount of pollen grains on a 1×1 km2 grid in over 65 countries worldwide, supporting an up to 5-day forecast, 3 plant types, and 15 different plant species.” Plus, it considers factors like land cover, historic climate data, annual pollen production per plant, and more in its pollen predictions.
Along with a local pollen forecast for up to five days in the future, the tool can also give tips and insights on how to minimize exposure, like staying indoors on Tuesday because birch pollen levels are going to be skyrocketing, or which outdoor areas are actually more clear of allergy triggers. App developers can use this API in a variety of ways, such as managing in-cabin air quality in a vehicle by integrating it into an app available on a car’s display, and advising drivers to close their windows if there’s a patch of high pollen ahead in their route.
Here’s more on the feature: