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Welcome to the new internet age – PA’s new air-quality monitoring concept shows the way 


Each evolution of the internet has made the network more integral to our lives and businesses, and its next evolution – the internet of things – will be no exception. Within very few years, it will be commonplace for consumers to expect services that have been enabled by the data collected from things, and for businesses to exploit the same data to run smoother and more efficient operations. 

In this new internet age, things will be connected into the fabric of the web just as applications are today. Parcels, packaging and much larger built structures will incorporate sensors that generate data about their state and the environment around them. Sharing this data with the web, objects will provide an extraordinarily detailed and up-to-the-second picture of the world we live in. Packages will declare how they have been stored; drugs will tell care providers that they have been taken; and bridges will inform highways engineers that they need maintenance. 

A concept developed by PA reveals some of the possibilities of this emerging idea. Our new air-quality monitoring system uses a small, low-powered sensor that measures air quality and sources position and time data from the global positioning system (GPS). The data generated by each sensor is downloaded through a smartphone or other source of wireless connectivity and integrated to provide a near real-time city-wide map of pollutant levels, such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter.

We expect the data to represent an important new resource for the many civic authorities around the world that are working to clean up urban air. Half the world's population already lives in cities and, each year, some 2.4 million people are killed by air pollution. Existing monitoring devices are, however large and costly and, across a city on the scale of London, there are a limited number of sensor installations. By contrast, our concept relies on a large number of sensors that are mounted on vehicles or bikes, or even hand-carried, and which measure the air quality that people in the city actually experience.

One of the fundamental qualities of this concept is that the measurements can be used to provide multiple services. Air-quality measurements are uploaded from each sensor to the cloud to enable the primary application of providing city dwellers with up-to-date information about pollution levels. At the same time, however, the data can be made available to application developers who want to use it – perhaps in combination with data from other sources such as weather data – to build new applications and services. Such services might include a journey planner that includes advice on possible pollution levels. 

Breaking the link between data sources and applications that use the data is a defining feature of the internet of things. There will be an incentive for data providers to release or sell their data to application developers and, in so doing, fundamentally increase its commercial value. Furthermore, the diversity of data available is likely to generate a surge of new applications as developers exploit the data provided from things to create new and richer internet services. 

Our concept is a development of the winning Secondary school entry from Westminster School in our 2013 Raspberry Pi competition. The prototype system is based on the Arduino, an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software, itself based on off-the shelf technology –– and runs on very little power. The next step is to reduce the size, weight, power requirements and, above all, the price of the platform. This gives it the potential to form the basis for affordable devices and city-wide sensing. 

To find out more about our groundbreaking product development, contact us now.

Mark Humphries
Product development and manufacturing
contact us now

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