‘Making Sense of Sensors’ with Envirosuite
On September 27-28, Envirosuite exhibited as a platinum sponsor at the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) ‘Making Sense of Sensors’ Conference at its headquarters in Diamond Bar, California. The conference was co-sponsored by Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and California Air Pollution Control Officers Association (CAPCOA). Key members of Envirosuite’s US team as well as the company’s founders were in attendance.
Set over two days, the conference provided an engaging forum on the latest advancements in air quality sensor technology, as well as data platforms, data services and community engagement. Keynote speakers included IBM’s Weather Underground, Microsoft, and the Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). There were also panel discussions that included input from state and federal government agencies, sensor providers and community groups.
‘Low cost air quality sensors’ are a relatively new way of monitoring air pollutants such as PM 10, PM2.5 and NO 2 as well as local weather data. The new generation sensors differ from traditional air quality monitoring and weather stations by the obvious fact that they are much smaller, cost significantly less, have built-in data transmitting capabilities and can be quite easily deployed in large monitoring networks at a regional scale.
Dr. Vasileios Papapostolou showing an air quality sensor testing chamber in SCAQMD’s AQ SPEC lab
Current offerings range from consumer-focussed monitors designed for indoor use in private residences, through to models intended to disrupt traditional methods used by regulatory agencies and industry.
There are still limitations to low cost air quality sensors, to varying degrees, but they are undergoing detailed quality testing by world leading environmental labs such as SCAQMD’s AQ SPEC lab. Other Californian agencies, and environmental agencies around the world are also exploring the application of these networks in their jurisdictions.
Dr. William A. Burke on the evolution of air quality sensors
The conference opened with an inspirational address from SCAQMD’s Chairman, Dr. William A. Burke, in which he highlighted how sensors have changed in his lifetime.
“When I was a young man in my early teens, the only sensors of any note or any widespread dissemination that the American public knew about were all yellow, and they were all in a cage because they were all canaries. In my lifetime I’ve seen it go from those canaries, who by the way saved thousands lives, to today” – Dr. William A. Burke, Chairman of South Coast Air Quality District
From canaries in cages to vast networks of sensors
Following Chairman Burke’s opening, the remainder of the conference was curated by Andrea Polidori, Manager of Atmospheric Measurement at SCAQMD.
“The main idea (of the conference) is to be able to bring together the three major players in this environment which are the vendors and manufacturers of air quality sensor technology, air quality officials and especially the community.” (sourced YouTube stream of conference – 01:15:30)
From the presentations that followed over the next two days it became apparent that the world of sensors is moving at great speed. Community groups are also watching advancements in sensor technology closely as they are intent on working together with environmental agencies to enhance liveability in their own neighbourhoods. This is creating exciting collaboration between sensor providers such as Purple Air and large software vendors like IBM’s Weather Underground.
‘Low-cost’ sensors are also paving the way for new sensor networks to be set up on a large scale. SCAQMD has now partnered with Purple Air to deploy a vast network of their low cost sensors around Los Angeles County.
Envirosuite visualising Purple Air’s sensor network for SCAQMD.
Maximising the value of air quality sensor data
What can be done with the vast – unprecedented – amount of data from these air quality sensor networks? Envirosuite’s Matt Scholl answered this question in his presentation “Maximizing the value of sensor data with action-orientated systems”.
Matt Scholl presenting at ‘Making Sense of Sensors’
“Clearly a visual system speaks a thousand words. Mapping is great for that. The community wants to be able to contribute and lodge their concerns. Regulators are looking to visualise the data, manage the data and use a system like this to investigate an incident or a complaint. Industry, on the other hand, might be looking for more automated systems that can be integrated into their management decisions…At the end of the day, everyone should be able to get what they need from a single source of truth to benefit their requirements.”
What does the future hold for air quality sensor networks?
The speed at which advancements in the sensor market are progressing was a common theme throughout the conference. Any advancements will require further testing in order to ensure they are up to the challenge of providing reliable air quality data to all stakeholders.
However, one aspect remains certain. The data collected from these vast networks will need to be managed, visualised and most importantly, analysed. We’re incredibly excited to be a part of the ride.