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Google Street View cars can smell gas leaks

Google Street View cars can smell gas leaks
jessicakirsh / Shutterstock.com

Have you ever seen those cool Google StreetView cars driving around? They travel across the country with huge cameras on top capturing the images that we can look up later. But, that's not all they're doing.

Recently, cars in Boston, Staten Island and Indianapolis were outfitted with methane gas sensors to pinpoint leaks across those cities and map them. Google participated in the project with New York's Environmental Defense Fund to track methane leaks in the riskiest cities.

Methane leaks are a triple threat: they can cause explosions, accelerate the growth of global warming and waste money. A study last year found that US methane emissions are 1.5 to 1.7 times higher than current estimates, a discrepancy that has been attributed to hard-to-detect leaks.

Boston and Staten Island were the worst offenders. The Google cars found one leak per 1.5 kilometers in both places. In Indianapolis, they found one leak every 320 kilometers.

The main point of the project is to find the areas with the most leaks, so that gas companies will be motivated to fix them. Maps of the leaks can be found on the Environmental Defense Fund's website.

The project plans to expand to more cities in the future, so the next time you see one of those funny cars driving through your neighborhood, it might be doing more than taking pictures.

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