Meet the Maker: Brian LaFranchi, Technical Operations Manager

2 min read
November 6 2017

Much of Project Air View’s success owes great credit to the years of work our late colleague, Chris McMahon, dedicated to this campaign. Chris was instrumental in developing the Aclima hardware platform and in managing the work in the field. We are forever grateful to Chris for the time and expertise he shared with us.

What do you do at Aclima?

I manage our Google Street View cars and drivers. I do a variety of things including designing drive plans, overseeing the general health of our equipment in the vehicles, and some testing and data analysis along the way. I also ensure that we maintain good data quality, which is something my training as an analytical chemist has prepared me for.

How do the Google Street View drivers know where to go?

In most cases, we assign them what we call ‘polygons’, which are essentially shapes drawn over a particular neighborhood on a map. They can see their position in real time within the polygon on the Google Street View monitor and are instructed to drive every segment of road in that polygon.

What inspires you about our mobile mapping project?

Being able to visualize air pollution data at a fine scale is what led me to seek out Aclima, and it is what keeps me inspired every day. The challenge in making environmental quality measurements is that we have been “tool limited” for a long time. Aclima powers past many of these limitations. Visualizing very large spatio-temporal datasets is one particular challenge that we have overcome and being able to easily browse the data on a map is something that excites and inspires me.

What do you hope people get out of the data we’re collecting about outdoor air?

This field has been tool limited, but also data point limited — in that the sheer number of areas aren’t monitored. The atmosphere is a very dynamic system. By having mobile measurements, you can understand how pollutants are behaving in time and space. Ultimately, I hope that our data leads to meaningful change. If we can put data in the hands of community leaders, you can start to imagine what good they can accomplish.

What challenges did you face to get this project off the ground?

There are many challenges with a project of this size. One small but important aspect, for example, is vehicle maintenance. We put our hands on every car, and the equipment inside, every day — from regular calibrations to daily inspections. We’ve had a few breakdowns, tires changes, and many dead car batteries along the way.

What are you most proud of working at Aclima?

90% of my job is making sure that the data comes in and is good quality. When I see the data displayed on one of our maps, I’m proud knowing that I contributed and that the data is trustworthy.

Where do you hope we drive next?

I’d like to drive the southern San Joaquin Valley — cities like Fresno and Bakersfield — which is an area that suffers from some of the worst air quality in the country. Also the Yosemite Valley, which has obvious appeal, but also has tons of traffic throughout the summer months, can be impacted by wildfires, and, to top it off, receives pollution transported from the Central Valley. Internationally, it would be really interesting to measure and monitor air quality in Mexico City, which has historically bad air quality and is located in high altitude, which makes it a unique place to study.