What is an API?
An Application Programming Interface, better known as an API, is a software intermediary that makes it possible to seamlessly connect separate digital systems or services.
APIs work behind the scenes so that different datasets can communicate with one another, enabling companies to make their data available to other third parties, like developers and business partners. By connecting with another system, APIs help integrators enhance their software functionalities with value added features.
There are a whole host of free API’s available, allowing developers to add valuable information to apps, websites, and other services. An example of this is NASA’s API, which includes the likes of data and imagery of asteroids and the Earth, which can then be ingested by developers for application development.
APIs are used daily on mass scale and are paramount for many applications, operating systems, and other software to work effectively. Without API’s, we wouldn’t be able to use social media applications, computer software, or receive important data that is used to power how we live.
How Does an API Work?
To access and integrate the data through an API, certain rules are set to communicate requests. Following the request, the API will connect with the database to retrieve the requested information, interpret the information, and perform the necessary actions needed to collate the data and send it back to the original system. Once this is completed, information from both sides is presented in a raw data format such as JSON, XML or text. The recipient can then integrate and interpret the supplied data within their own systems, improving functionality and the end user experience.
To put it into layman’s terms, a common analogy used to explain how an API works is to imagine a waiter at a restaurant taking a food order for a customer. The waiter will take the order and communicate the customer’s order with the kitchen staff. Chefs will cook the meal and give this to the waiter, who then serves the order to the customer. In this sense, the API is the waiter who acts as a middleman to carry out and deliver requests, providing customers with the requested meal.
What Can APIs be Used For?
There are different types of APIs which can be used for integrating a wide variety of information into existing systems, such as database APIs, operating system APIs, remote APIs, and web APIs. For example, APIs can be used to enable social media users to log into third party websites using their credentials for sites like Facebook or Twitter. If not already logged in with an existing website account, users often have an option to log in using their Facebook and Twitter accounts. When the preferred social media login is selected, the API is used to provide the website with identification information for authenticating the login, so it knows who is using their site.
Another way to use an API is to integrate weather data to display information on phone home screens, computer operating systems and platforms such as Google search. The only interaction needed to view this integration is to either open our phones and laptops to see today’s weather or to enter a query into a search engine to receive current temperatures alongside forecasted information.
At EarthSense, we use APIs throughout our monitoring, modelling and SaaS offerings to help deliver our complete service. For example, we use an API to create our online air quality portal, MyAir®. An API collects data from monitoring stations, such as the Automatic Urban & Rural Network (AURN) and Zephyrs. This is then visually represented as a point on a map or a time series chart. An API is also used to collect MappAir® modelled air quality data and convert it to an image layer that displays pollution levels geographically within MyAir®. Only through the use of APIs can we provide a real-time air quality portal that is intuitive to use, and updates automatically in real-time.
How is API Integration Used to Manage & Improve Air Quality?
We provide API access as part of our data services, allowing users to incorporate our air quality data into their systems to receive combined information for making evidenced decisions towards cleaner air.
The likes of transport companies and smart city planners can integrate MappAir® modelling data with traffic models or traffic management systems for combined traffic and pollution information. Project NEVFMA used integrated MappAir® dispersion modelling and real-time Zephyr® measurements integrated with Aimsun’s traffic model, Aimsun Live. Integrating this data provided various response plans to congestion within road networks, enabling users to identify and implement the most effective method of improving traffic flow to reduce tailpipe emissions.
Alternatively, our MappAir® annual average data API can be used for identifying concentrations at postcodes across the UK to outline where mitigation strategies may need to be implemented. An example of this is our work with Global Action Plan, who used our annual average dataset to investigate the number of schools located in areas above World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines. As a result, they found that 27% of schools in the UK are in areas with unsafe levels.
In addition to our modelling API, we also offer an API to integrate Zephyr® measurements with existing systems. Such information can be utilised by traffic managers and local authorities to show real-time pollution levels to members of the public. Coventry City Council make use of a Zephyr® pollution monitoring network integrated with Siemens’ Stratos Traffic Management system to display pollution levels on variable messaging signs (VMS) to alert motorists when unsafe levels are met. During these times, high concentrations and alternative routes are delivered through VMS, allowing drivers to avoid hotspot areas to help towards reduced pollution.
Zephyr® data can also be integrated as part of online dashboards to display live pollution measurements alongside external parameters. For example, Proximity Futures have Zephyr® data available on their IntelliSense dashboard to present pollution information alongside footfall and vehicle count. Using integrated technology, they’re able to provide local authorities with insight into how each factor influences another and can guide decisions about how best to react to pollution episodes.
Benefits of API Integration
API integration comes with several benefits for businesses, the first being saving time and costs. With API integration available for businesses to combine two or more datasets, additional time and money that would have been spent developing new technologies to create the desired information, is saved. An outcome of this is that business can offer integrated technologies to both consumers and other businesses at a more efficient rate than what would have been without APIs.
API integration also allows for streamlined data for better decision-making processes. By integrating certain types of data with related information, users can understand how one factor has an impact on the other, such as understanding how a build up of traffic is creating an increase in emissions. The integration of each dataset allows for more informed and evidenced decision making for creating better outcomes. In today’s age of climate awareness, this is something which is highly valuable as we work towards cleaner air and net zero targets.
The final benefit we’ll mention is that API integration provides a platform for innovation and collaboration. In the digital world, it seems there is always room for innovating and responding to everchanging customer needs. With a collaborative and integrated technology approach, this can be used for reacting to needs within the necessary market and with the versatility of API’s, there is likely the system out there needed for businesses to deliver technology which is yet to be seen.
Do you want to find out more about integrating air quality data with your system?
Head to www.earthsense.co.uk/mappair for more information about integrating air quality data with your systems.