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Low cost self-learning wireless gas sensors for building, healthcare and oil and gas applications

  • This project was covered in BQ Online, and a number of other online and printed publications in March 2015.

The well-known afternoon slump suffered by office workers is being tackled in a project developed Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) and Cumbernauld-based Gas Sensing Solutions (GSS) in partnership with CENSIS. The project will seek to create a smart building energy management system which can continuously monitor air quality, predict a looming drop in atmospheric oxygen, and take action to improve it.

The system even knows how many people – if any – are in a room and adapts its behaviour to make the occupants more comfortable by adjusting air quality and temperature.

GSS has provided the sensor, which can have a battery life of up to 10 years, and GCU researchers have invented a smart controller which reacts to, and learns from, its surroundings and responds accordingly. The project will also add photovoltaic energy harvesting technology to the system, allowing it to work indefinitely without the need to replace batteries.

The entire system is wireless, so a building with 20-30 rooms can have the devices fully fitted and operational within five days. Sensors are also fitted to the outside of the building to allow the system to react to external conditions which would impact on the internal environment – sensing rapidly rising temperatures outside and pre-empting that by gradually cooling the interior, for example.

Dr Hadi Larijani, GCU Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer, Communications and Interactive Systems said the system would also help older buildings meet new environmental standards.

He said: “People have traditionally tackled afternoon drowsiness with making a cup of coffee, but in reality the issue tends to be associated with diminishing air quality.

“Modern building regulations have focused on thermal insulation, so insulating a building to prevent heat loss has the associated effect of preventing any fresh air getting in. That means the people inside are sitting in a room where the oxygen levels are falling throughout the day.

“Retrofitting air conditioning is expensive and doesn’t really address the central problem of air quality, whereas our system will make intelligent decisions about the conditions in the building and take action to address it. That might involve increasing the flow of air into a particular area where the system thinks it will do the most overall good.

“We’re not saying it’ll stop coffee cravings altogether, but people may find themselves less dependent on caffeine if the air quality stays at a steady level throughout the day.”

The technology being developed by Dr Larijani’s team and GSS could be available in as little as 12 months following further tests, and has a range of other applications, including real-time monitoring of heart patients in hospital.

The system can be configured to monitor vital signals from patients which could indicate an imminent stroke or heart attack – an increase in certain blood enzymes, for example – and make decisions in response. That could range from alerting doctors elsewhere in the ward, to interacting with hospital IT networks to automatically arrange for the patient to be admitted to an intensive care unit.

Alan Henderson, Managing Director and co-founder of GSS, commented: “This technology has huge potential – with a wide range of possible applications. Air quality is a ubiquitous challenge across the globe which presents us with a number of opportunities in different sectors and geographies.

“While this system could be used to improve air quality in an office, it could equally be employed in hospitals to monitor patients’ conditions. With the right configuration, it has the ability to take action in response to any problems which could relieve some of the time pressure placed on medical staff by reacting to issues as they arise.”

Professor Des Gibson, GSS Chairman, commented: “We pride ourselves on striving for technical excellence, and this new product is further evidence of that ambition. Requirements for cost effective sensors are constantly evolving across different markets, and our aim is to be as reactive as possible to these changes.”

Ian Reid, chief executive of CENSIS, which brought GSS and the university together on the collaboration, said the project exemplified the broad potential of the Scottish sensors and imaging sector.

He said: “Intelligent automation is going to be a growing theme of future technology, and these kinds of projects illustrate the opportunities for businesses and researchers to come up with ideas which make a genuine difference in society.

“Growing interactivity between networks, devices, people and cities is going to be the theme of future living, and Scotland’s long history of innovation puts it in a very strong position to take a leading role in how that can be the harnessed to the benefit of everyone.

“We’re very excited to see the final results of the collaboration between GSS and Glasgow Caledonian University, and the range of applications and benefits this technology can create in the future.”

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