Inertial Measurement Unit – essential in self-driving cars!

26/06/2018
They are here or on the way – the self-driving car! It is one of revolutions which could change lives in the 21st century. Here Mike Horton, Chief Technical Officer at ACEINNA discusses seven reasons your life depends on an accurate IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) in these self-driving cars.

An inertial measurement unit (IMU) is a device that directly measures the three linear acceleration components and the three rotational rate components (6-DOF) of a vehicle. An IMU is unique among the sensors typically found in an autonomous vehicle because an IMU requires no connection or knowledge of the external world.

A self-driving car requires many different technologies, for example — LIDAR to create a precise 3-D image of the local surroundings, radar for ranging targets using a different part of the EM spectrum, cameras to read signs and detect color, high-definition maps for localization, and more. Unlike the IMU, each of these technologies involves the external environment in order to provide data back to the software stack for localization, perception, and control. This unique “independent” property of the IMU, makes it a core technology for both safety and sensor-fusion.

An Accurate IMU can Mitigate Issues in RED

The following of Seven Top Reasons is just a start, additional reasons and benefits of an accurate IMU are welcomed as responses to this post either as comments or direct to the author himself at ACCEINNA.

•1 Safety First
The system engineer needs to consider every scenario and always have a back up plan. Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) formalizes this requirement into design requirements for risk mitigation. FMEA will ask what happens if the LIDAR, Radar, and Cameras all fail at the same time? An IMU can dead-reckon for a short period of time, meaning it can determine full position and attitude independently for a short while. An IMU alone can slow the vehicle down in a controlled way and bring it to a stop … providing the best practical outcome in a bad situation. While this may seem like a contrived requirement, it turns out to be a fundamental one to a mature safety approach.

•2 A Good Attitude
An accurate IMU can determine and track attitude precisely. We often think of a car’s position or location, but when driving the direction or heading is equally crucial. Driving the slightly wrong direction even for a brief instant, will put you in the wrong lane. Dynamic control of the vehicle requires sensors with dynamic response, and an accurate IMU does a nice job of tracking dynamic attitude and position changes accurately. Due to its fully environment independent nature, an IMU can even track the really tricky cases such as the slipping and skidding where tires lose traction. A precise attitude measurement is often useful an input into other algorithms. While LIDAR and Cameras can be useful in determining attitude, GPS is often pretty useless. Finally, a stable independent attitude reference has value in calibration and alignment.

•3 Accurate Lane Keeping

During turns, an accurate IMU plays a key role in lane keeping

It turns out when humans are not distracted or drunk, we are typically not bad at driving. A typical driver can hold their position in a lane to better than 10cm. This is actually really tight. If an autonomous vehicle wanders in its lane, then it will appear to be a bad driver. As an example during a turn, poor lane keeping could easily result in an accident. The IMU is a key dynamic sensor to steer the vehicle dynamically, moreover the IMU can maintain a better than 30cm accuracy level for short periods (up to ten seconds) when other sensors go offline. The IMU is also used in algorithms that can cross compare multiple ways to determine position/location and then assign a certainty to the overall localization estimate. Without the IMU, it maybe impossible to even know when the location error from a LIDAR solution has degraded

•4 LIDAR is Still Expensive
Tesla is famous for its “No LIDAR Required” approach to autopilot technology. If you don’t have LIDAR, a good IMU is even more critical because camera-based localization of the vehicle will have more frequent periods of low-accuracy simply depending on what is in the camera scene or the external lighting conditions. Camera based localization uses “SIFT” feature tracking in the captured images to compute attitude. If the camera is not stereo (often the case) inertial data from the IMU itself is also a core part of the math to compute the position and attitude in the first place.

•5 Compute is not Free
The powerful combination of high-accuracy LIDAR and high-definition maps is at the core of the most advanced Level 4 self-driving approaches such as those being tested by Cruise and Waymo. In these systems LIDAR scans are in real-time matched to the HD map using convolutional signal processing techniques. Based on the match, the precise location of vehicle and attitude is estimated. This process is computationally expensive. While we all like to believe the cost of compute is vanishingly small, on a vehicle it simply is not that cheap. The more accurately the algorithm knows its initial position and attitude, the less computation required to compute the best match. In addition, by using IMU data, the risk of the algorithm getting stuck in a local minimum of HD map data is reduced.

•6 GPS/INS: Making High-Accuracy GPS Work
In today’s production vehicles GPS systems use low-cost single-frequency receivers. This makes the GPS accuracy pretty useless for vehicle automation. However, low-cost multi-frequency GPS is on the way from several silicon suppliers. On top of this upcoming silicon, network-based correction solutions such as RTK and PPP can provide GPS fixes to centimeter level accuracy under ideal conditions. However, these solutions are very sensitive to the environment — such as bridges, trees, and buildings. It is well established that the way to overcome this challenge and improve precisions GPS reliability is to use high-accuracy IMU aiding at a low-level in the position solution. Such GPS/INS techniques include tightly-coupled and ultra-tightly-coupled GPS/INS. These are coming soon to the automotive market (stay tuned for exciting updates).

•7 Car’s Already Need an IMU
Turns out production automobiles already have anywhere from 1/3 of an IMU to a full IMU on board. Vehicle stability systems rely heavily on a Z-axis gyro and lateral X-Y accelerometers. Roll-over detection relies on a gyro mounted with its sensitive axis in the direction of travel. These sensors have been part of the vehicles safety systems for over a decade now. The only problem is that the sensor accuracy is typically too low to be of use for the prior six uses cases. So why not upgrade the vehicle to a high-accuracy IMU and help it drive autonomously? The main barrier has been cost.
Aceinna along with other companies in the industry are working hard to remove the cost barrier.


Pushing the boundary of price-performance

@MEMSsensortech #Automotive


Bob Lally – Piezoelectric sensing technology pioneer.

27/03/2018

Molly Bakewell Chamberlin, president, Embassy Global LLC pays touching tribute to an important instrument pioneer and innovator. She acknowledges the help of Jim Lally, retired Chairman of PCB Group in preparing this eulogy.

Bob Lally (1924-2018)

During my earliest days in the sensors industry, at PCB Piezotronics (PCB), I can still remember the excitement which accompanied publication of my first technical article. It was a primer on piezoelectric sensing technology, which ran some 15 years ago in the print edition of Sensors. About a month later, I recall receiving a package at PCB, containing both a copy of my article and a congratulatory letter. The article was covered in a sea of post-it notes, filled with new insights and explanatory diagrams. I recall marveling at the sheer kindness of anyone taking such time and interest in the work. I’d sent an immediate thank you, then received yet another encouraging response.  From that time onward, nearly each time I’d publish an article, another friendly envelope would arrive. I’d look forward to them, and the opportunities for learning and growth they’d offered.

As I’d soon come to know, those envelopes were sent by none other than PCB Founder, Bob Lally, who passed away last month at the age of 93. For me, Bob was my PCB pen pal, who along with his brother, Jim, helped me to develop a real appreciation for piezoelectric sensing technology. They made it fun. I also had the privilege of learning quite a bit about this kind, brilliantly complex and insightful person who was so helpful to me. To the sensors industry, Bob’s technical contributions were legendary. What is less known about Bob, however, were his equally remarkable histories, first as a decorated veteran of WW II; and later, as an innovator in STEM.

After graduating from high school in 1942, Bob entered military service, as part of the United States Army which helped liberate mainland Europe during World War II. His service was recognised with two Bronze Stars for bravery. When the hostilities ended, Bob returned home, and was able to benefit from a special U.S. government program which funded the university education of military veterans and their families. This benefit allowed Bob to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. He graduated with high honors, as University co-salutatorian, in 1950. Bob also later continued this commitment to lifelong learning via studies at both Purdue and the State University of New York at Buffalo (NY USA).

Bob’s first engineering job upon graduation was as a guidance and control engineer at Bell Aircraft Corp. (Bell) in Buffalo, (NY USA). This a position in which he would serve for four years. He worked in test flight control systems R&D for experimental aircraft, glide bombs and guided missiles. He also supervised the inertial guidance group. It was from his work at Bell that Bob first learned about the application of piezoelectric sensing technology for the dynamic measurement of physical parameters, such as vibration, pressure, and force. That technology was first developed by Bob’s colleague, Walter P. Kistler, the Swiss-born physicist who had successfully integrated piezoelectric technology into Bell’s rocket guidance and positioning systems.

Original PCB Piezotronics facility in the family home of Jim Lally, ca 1967. Bob Lally, centre background, is operating a DuMont oscilloscope in the Test department.
Jim Lally, left foreground, leads the Sales department.

In 1955, Bob and some of his Bell colleagues decided to form what was the original Kistler Instrument Company. That company sought to further commercialize piezoelectric sensing technologies for an expanded array of applications and markets, beyond the aerospace umbrella. In addition to his role as co-founder, Bob remained at the original Kistler Instrument Company for 11 years, serving as VP of Marketing, while continuing his roles in engineering, production, testing, and sales. Upon learning that the company was being sold to a firm out of Washington State, Bob decided to form PCB Piezotronics. Established in 1967, PCB specialized in the development and application of integrated electronics within piezoelectric sensors for the dynamic measurement of vibration, pressure, force and acceleration. The original PCB facility had rather humble beginnings, with all sales, marketing, R&D and operations running from the basement of Jim Lally’s family home.

IR-100 Award plaque, presented to Bob Lally, 1983.

It was also in this timeframe that Bob became world-renowned for his capability to successfully integrate piezoelectric sensing technology into mechanical devices, setting a new industry standard for test and measurement. He was awarded multiple U.S. patents for these innovations, including the modally-tuned piezoelectric impact hammer, pendulum hammer calibrator, and gravimetric calibrator, all for the modal impact testing of machines and structures. The modally tuned impulse excitation hammer was further recognized with a prestigious IR-100 award, as one of the top 100 industry technical achievements of 1983.

Bob was also renowned for his successful commercialization of a two-wire accelerometer with built-in electronics. That concept was marketed by PCB as integrated circuit piezoelectric, or ICP. Bob’s 1967 paper for the International Society of Automation (ISA), “Application of Integrated Circuits to Piezoelectric Transducers”, was among the first formally published technical explanations of this concept. As Bob had detailed, the application of this technology made the sensors lower cost, easier to use and more compatible with industrial environments. Subsequent widespread industry adoption of these accelerometers created new markets for PCB, such as industrial machinery health monitoring, and formed a major cornerstone for the company’s success. In 2016, PCB was acquired by MTS Systems Corporation and employs more than 1000 worldwide, with piezoelectric sensing technologies still among its core offerings.

Beyond Bob’s many R&D accomplishments, he is known for his invaluable contributions to the establishment of industry standards and best practices, as a member of the technical standards committees of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Society for Experimental Mechanics (SEM), and Industrial Electronics Society (IES), among others. Bob also served on the ISA Recommended Practices Committee for Piezoelectric Pressure Transducers and Microphones, as well as the ASA Standards Committee for Piezoelectric Accelerometer Calibration. Many of the standards that Bob helped to develop, as part of these committees, remain relevant today.

Upon retirement, Bob remained committed to the education and training of the next generation of sensors industry professionals. He often gave tutorials and donated instrumentation for student use. Bob later continued that work as an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati. In the mid-2000s, he began to develop an innovative series of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) educational models. Each was designed to provide a greater understanding of various sensing technologies, their principles of operation, and “real life” illustrations of practical applications.

STEM sensing model, with adjustable pendulums, by Bob Lally.

Among Bob’s final works was a unique STEM model consisting of three adjustable connected pendulums. That model was used to illustrate the concept of energy flex transference and the influence of physical structural modifications on structural behavior. Bob continued his mentoring and STEM work nearly right up until his passing. He did so with unwavering dedication and enthusiasm, despite being left permanently disabled from his combat injuries.

In addition to co-founding two of the most successful sensor manufacturers in history and his many R&D accomplishments, Bob’s generosity of spirit shall remain an important part of his legacy. I, like many, remain truly grateful for the selfless and meaningful contributions of Bob Lally to my early professional development, particularly in my technical article work. It is an honour to tell his story.

• He is survived by his son, Patrick (Kathi) Lally of Orchard Park, New York; his grandson, Joshua Lally; his surviving siblings, Jim, MaryAnn (Wilson), and Patricia; and his many nieces, nephews, friends and colleagues.

• Special thanks to Jim, Kathi and Patrick Lally for their support and contributions to this article.

• All pictures used hear are by kind courtesy of the Lally family.

Electric vehicle pioneer favours wireless test rigs.

12/02/2018

A company that has been at the forefront of electric vehicle design and development for over 20 years has supplied a test rig based on a wireless torque sensor to a world renowned British University automotive research facility.

Tirius has been built on pioneering work on an all-electric single seat racing car and a series of record breaking vehicles. It continues to bring the latest technology to clients in the form of product design and development and the provision of its range of electric drive systems.

Head of Tirius, Dr Tim Allen, explains: “We are helping the university’s research team develop electric drive train technology typically found in ‘A-Class’ cars, for example urban runarounds and small family hatchbacks. Specifically we are currently looking at permanent magnet traction motors in a number of sizes and configurations, with a view to optimising electronic control for each motor type.”

The research involves running each motor on a test rig through its full output range and mapping its torque output at many points to build up a performance profile. The design of the controller can then be matched to the motor characteristics. This should be able to ensure that the motor runs in its optimum operating zone as much as possible, maximises motor life and regenerative braking, minimising wear, and is as energy efficient as possible.

The design of the test rig is in fact quite simple, thanks to the torque sensor, a TorqSense, as made by Sensor Technology.

“We are pleased to promote TorqSense and the guys at Sensor Technology,” says Tim. “We have been using their kit for many years and in many different roles. The bottom line is that they are easy to use, accurate and great value – partly because they can be re-used once their original project has been completed.

TorqSense is a good choice for this work because its non-contact operation allows rapid set-up during the profile building test runs. It also means extra drag forces are not added to the system, so measurements represent true values and calculations are therefore straightforward.”

TorqSense uses two piezo-electric combs which are simply glued to the drive shaft at right angles to one another. As the shaft turns it naturally twists along its length very slightly and in proportion to the torque, which deforms the combs changing their piezo-signature. This change is measured wirelessly by a radio frequency pick up and is a measure of the instantaneous torque value.

Its data is output to a very user-friendly computer screen which uses graphics to aid easy interpretations. In fact the display on the computer is similar to a car’s dashboard, so most people understand it intuitively. Further, the data is automatically logged for further analysis.

Tim again: “With our type of research work there are some potential errors that we have to look out for, including time-based zero-drift, bending moments on the shaft, bearing losses, temperature fluctuations etc. These are easily accounted for with TorqSense-based test rigs. Normally you have to account for the drag caused by the slip rings, but the wireless TorqSense does not use them, so that is one less calculation – and one less fiddly fixing task.

“A great benefit of TorqSense is the ease with which it can be mounted and dismounted, which simplifies research work where frequent reconfiguring is required.”

The University project will take two or three years to complete and the TorqSense test rig will be worked hard during this time. “At the end of the work, I have no doubt that the TorqSense will be reused in a new research program. It’s what we do in-house at Tirius.”

 

@sensortech #PAuto

World’s first LiFi enabled light bar!

21/09/2017
Mainstream adoption of LiFi will be available within LED light bars which will replace the most widely utilized light source in the world – fluorescent tubes.

The introduction of the first LED “light bar” is forecasted to replace the most conventional form of lighting within commercial and industrial facilities: fluorescent tubes; with an estimated 3-4 billion installed throughout the world.

pureLiFi and Linmore LED will demonstrate this new technology at LuxLive from the 15-16th of November 2017 (London GB) as part of their LiFi experience zone.

WiFi versus LiFi

Wireless connectivity is evolving. The spectrum now has to accommodate more mobile users and is forecasted to increase to 20 Billion devices (forming the IoT) by the year 2020 which will result in what is known as the Spectrum Crunch. However, LiFi can open up 1000 times more spectrum for wireless communications to combat this phenomenon.  LiFi is a transformative technology changing the way we connect to the Internet by using the same light we use to illuminate our offices, home and streets.

Integration of LiFi within LED strip lights will drive mass adoption, enabling LiFi to easily move into full-scale implementation within offices, schools, warehouses and anywhere illumination is required.

Alistair Banham, CEO of pureLiFi says: “This partnership marks a step change for LiFi adoption. We can now offer new solutions that will help industry, future proof their spaces, devices and technology to ensure they are ready to cope with the increased demand for highspeed, secure and mobile wireless communications.”

LiFi utilizes LED lights that illuminate both our workspace and homes to transmit high-speed, bi-directional, secure and fully networked wireless internet.

What is LiFi
LiFi is high speed bi-directional networked and mobile communication of data using light. LiFi comprises of multiple light bulbs that form a wireless network, offering a substantially similar user experience to Wi-Fi except using the light spectrum.

Lighting manufacturers are important players in the adoption of LiFi technology. Linmore LED has built its reputation in the retrofit market, and they ensure their portfolio of LED products perform in the top 1% for energy efficiency in the industry.

Retrofit fixtures are in great demand as many facilities seek to drive down energy costs by as much as 70-80% which can be achieved by converting to LED technology. This trend is also driven by the increased operating life that LEDs provide and the concerns of toxic mercury utilized within fluorescent lamps that complicates disposal. This provides a scenario where building owners and facility managers can adopt LiFi technology while dramatically decreasing lighting-related energy costs at the same time.

Paul Chamberlain, CEO of Linmore LED says: “Utilizing an existing part of a building’s infrastructure – lighting – opens up endless possibilities for many other technologies to have a deployment backbone.  Internet of Things (IoT), RFID, product and people movement systems, facility maintenance, and a host of other technologies are taken to the next level with LiFi available throughout a facility.”

John Gilmore, Linmore’s VP of Sales talks about early adopters of the technology: “We’re very excited to be aligning ourselves with pure LiFi. We firmly believe the US Government will be an early adopter of this technology. Our position on GSA schedule will help buyers be able to easily access the technology.”

LiFi offers lighting innovators the opportunity to enter new markets and drive completely new sources of revenue by providing wireless communications systems. LiFi is a game changer not only for the communications industry but also for the lighting industry, and with LiFi, Linmore certainly has a brighter future. 

@purelifi #Pauto @LinmoreLED ‏#bes

Sensors in space – will they last 100,000 years?

22/02/2015

ROSETTA+LANDERWhen the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta space probe arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko it had been travelling for ten years and had travelled 4 billion miles on just one tank of fuel. If the fuel had run out before the probe reached the comet, the navigational thrusters would not have been able to make the numerous course corrections needed to rendezvous with the comet and then establish a stable orbit from which to launch the Philae landing module.

Throughout the long journey, Kistler pressure sensors monitored the fuel consumption continuously for the whole ten years to ensure that Rosetta arrived at its destination with enough fuel to make the final corrections to put the probe into orbit.

The Rosetta mission was one of the most ambitious projects executed by the ESA and two Kistler piezoresistive sensors played a small but valuable part in the success of the project by providing precision fuel monitoring from March 2004 onwards.

Sensor in space!

Sensor in space!

The key selection criteria for these sensors included their proven longevity and total reliability despite high levels of vibration at lift-off and years of zero gravity conditions. Rosetta’s cargo includes what is known as the Rosetta Disk – a nickel alloy disk with information etched onto it in image form. The disk contains about 13,000 pages of text in 1200 different languages, and it should still be readable after 10,000 years: durable though they are, even Kistler’s sensors are unlikely to be functioning after such a lengthy period!


Accelerating development of smart, power-efficient IoT applications!

28/07/2014
Delivering intelligent connectivity starting at the network edge

B&B Electronics has introduced its Wzzard™ Intelligent Sensing Platform.    Wzzard is an easy to use, complete wireless sensor connectivity platform for the rapid deployment of scalable, intelligent, reliable Internet of Things (IoT) networking in remote and demanding environments.   Wzzard was designed to help integrators, VARs and service providers efficiently develop and deploy secure, smart, self-powered, and scalable IoT applications.

BBWzzardUnlike a traditional SCADA application where sensors and edge devices are simply passive conduits for raw data, edge decision making delivers a more effective network.  Using iterative control limits and gateway data aggregation to support applications closer to the network edge, the Wzzard Intelligent Sensing Platform brings this intelligence to the network starting at the sensor, creating a more responsive, reliable and efficient network.

There are several key components and technologies that comprise B&B Electronics’ Wzzard Intelligent Sensing Platform, as demonstrated here: B&B Smart Sensing Wzzard Platform

First, Wzzard Intelligent Edge Nodes will connect, via conduit fitting cable gland or M12 connector, to any industry-standard sensor. General-purpose analog inputs, digital input/output and thermocouple interfaces are included. B&B has already integrated internal temperature and accelerometer sensor options, and can integrate other application specific sensors upon request.

The Intelligent Edge Nodes are easily configurable, using Android or IoS smartphones or tablets and the Wzzard app over Bluetooth LE 4.0. They can be configured to communicate only data outside specified thresholds, reducing the cost on cellular networks, as well as to associate other useful information (geo-location, device name, and up-time) with the collected sensor data for upstream analytics applications.   Control time synchronization is used to maximize battery life, exceeding 5 years for many applications.   Nodes are IP67 rated for outdoor use and include both magnetized and screw mount options.

Next is the communications component. B&B chose SmartMesh IP® wireless sensing technology from Linear Technologies Dust Networks.  SmartMesh IP is based upon the wireless IEEE 802.15.4e standard and creates full-mesh networks, sometimes referred to as “mesh-to-the-edge” networks.  SmartMesh IP networks use a triple-play of wireless mesh technologies—time diversity, frequency diversity, and physical diversity—to assure reliability, resiliency, scalability, power source flexibility, and ease-of-use.  At the core the technology is an intelligent mesh network with advanced algorithms and power saving technologies that enable powerful features not available from other WSN providers including:

• Ultra low power consumption

• Deterministic power management and optimization

• Auto-forming mesh technology for a self-healing and self-sustaining network

• Dynamic bandwidth support, load balancing and optimization

• Network management and configuration

• Zero collision low power packet exchange

• Scalability to large, dense, deep networks

wzzard_groupWzzard’s Intelligent Edge Nodes can join the mesh network at any time without gateway interaction.  Nodes attach automatically, and the SmartMesh IP technology dynamically self-configures to re-form the mesh network. To ensure data always reaches the gateway, nodes will determine their optimal RF paths to other nodes and back to the gateway. The SmartMesh IP protocol implemented within the edge nodes includes advanced network management functions and security features such as encryption and authentication. For more information: B&B Smart-Sensing What is Smartmesh

Wzzard also uses the lightweight, publish/subscribe messaging transport MQTT protocol for sensor communications.   MQTT is an extremely simple messaging protocol created for M2M and IoT applications over wireless networks. Its efficient distribution of information to single or multiple receivers, low power usage and minimized data packets make it ideal for mobile or remote locations. Unlike older SCADA protocols such as Modbus, MQTT places few restrictions on the volume or type of data that can be communicated. This facilitates a meta-data approach where multiple IoT applications can act upon the information simultaneously without having to know its origin.

Finally, B&B’s programmable, industrial-grade Spectre router serves as Wzzard’s Intelligent Gateway. Spectre can connect equipment and other devices to the Internet or Intranet over either wired Ethernet or wireless cellular connections. Spectre is built for plug-and-play simplicity with extensive remote management, deployment and customization options.  It is a robust, flexible gateway designed for easy deployment in demanding environments and the cellular version creates secure connections in locations where cable connections are impractical.

Processed information from the sensor nodes is published through the Spectre Gateway up to the customer’s IoT application using MQTT transport protocol.

SeeControl is one of the first IoT platform providers to leverage the Wzzard Intelligent Sensing Platform and MQTT protocols to develop applications. (More information at: B&B/SeeControl Partnership)

“Today, most business analytics can only describe what has happened and why,” said Parthesh Shastri, SeeControl’s vice president of customer success and strategy.  “The industry can move past descriptive to predictive and even prescriptive analytics using IoT technologies such as B&B’s Wzzard that applies edge decision making and processes information collected from sensors before transmitting relevant, as opposed to raw data, up to SeeControl’s SaaS remote management platform. Cloud-based big data analytics is then better able to derive meaning from the data, and prescribe specific courses of action, to drive more intelligent applications.”

Jerry O’Gorman, CEO of B&B Electronics explained, “The Wzzard platform’s technologies, protocols and hardware work together to reduce the complexity, expertise and time it takes for integrators to develop scalable IoT solutions.   We developed Wzzard to facilitate the coming world of connected intelligence, where smart machines and systems will collaborate, inform and make decisions on the intelligence gained from each other with little or no human supervision. Humans will program these smart networks, but then they have the ability to run efficiently and autonomously, sometimes for years, until there’s data reported that requires human intervention.”

Possible Applications:

  • Flood and water level monitoring
  • Smart car parks; vehicle counting, air quality
  • Smart irrigation systems monitoring soil moisture, environmental conditions, leaks
  • Mechanical condition monitoring/preventative maintenance
  • Energy measurements and audits on a per system or machine basis
  • Data center environmental monitoring
  • Tank and lift stations
  • Condition monitoring and optimization in industrial environments
  • Traffic monitoring of over-height vehicles for tunnels and bridges

Keeping all Welsh air good!

25/06/2014
Air quality monitors track pollution hot-spots

Situated in the south west of Wales, in a largely rural area bordering the Brecon Beacons, Carmarthenshire’s air quality is predominantly good. However, there are areas of concern where major roads pass through some of the County’s larger towns, including Llanelli, Carmarthen and Llandeilo, where air quality is dominated by the effects of road traffic. The County Council is therefore testing new monitoring technologies so that it will be better able to track the effects of improvement measures.

The sensor!

The sensor!

Carmarthenshire County Council operates a network of passive diffusion tubes as part of its commitment to Local Air Quality Management under Part IV of the Environment Act 1995. However, in 2013, Air Monitors supplied the Council with a new type of air quality monitor, ‘AQMesh’, that is able to provide continuous air quality readings for a range of important parameters. This new technology is small, wireless, lightweight and battery powered, which means that it can be quickly and simply mounted in almost any location.

The Council’s monitoring programme has identified Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) from traffic emissions, mostly diesel vehicles, as the pollutant of greatest concern. A number of locations in the centre of Llandeilo have been shown to be in breach of European air quality standards, so an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) has been established in the town. Whilst NO2 levels are not sufficiently high to cause immediate health effects, the current levels could cause adverse health effects over the long term, particularly in people suffering from respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

NO2 reduction by about 25µg/m3 is the main objective of the air quality action plan, but the Council is determined to ensure that all pollutants remain at safe levels, so the ability of the AQMesh to monitor a wide range of parameters (Ozone, Carbon Monoxide, Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Monoxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Temperature, Humidity and Atmospheric Pressure) is a major benefit.

Four features
Stephen Hoskin from Air Monitors says: “There are a number of important new features in AQMesh that are fundamentally changing the way that air quality is monitored; firstly, it can be located where air quality matters most – where people are breathing.

“Secondly, in comparison with large reference stations, with only a small drop in levels of accuracy, the cost of monitoring is reduced dramatically, which means that users will be able to measure air quality in more locations, and this will reduce the UK’s current dependence on modelling to ‘guesstimate’ air quality.

The unobtrusive sensor in situ!

The unobtrusive sensor in situ!

“Finally, by providing near real-time data over the internet, useful air quality data can be made available to a much wider audience via smartphones, tablets and computers.”

The AQMesh in Carmarthenshire is being operated by Oliver Matthews, one of the Council’s Environmental Health Practitioners with specific responsibility for air quality. He says: “In the past we have not continuously monitored this range of parameters because doing so would have involved the installation of a large, expensive air quality monitoring station that would have probably required planning permission.

“These reference stations offer high levels of accuracy, but come with large capital and operational costs, and cannot typically be moved, whereas the AQMesh can be quickly attached to a lamp post or other item of street furniture at a fraction of the cost.

“Alternatively, we could install passive diffusion tubes, one for each parameter of interest, but the disadvantage of this method is that the tubes are left in place for four to five weeks, so we are only provided with an average figure over that time, with no indication of the peaks and troughs that occur. For example, a recent road closure resulted in the diversion of traffic and, with the benefit of AQMesh, we were able to track a significant short-term rise in NO2.”

With the assistance of key stakeholders, the AQMA draft action plan has identified a number of options to improve air quality, and the AQMesh unit has been installed in order to help assess the success or failure of each initiative.

Interestingly, the development of the AQMA action plan benefitted from essential gas main works that were required in Llandeilo because this involved the closure of the main trunk road (Rhosmaen Street) for a period of up to three months, which provided an opportunity to identify the effects of traffic diversions on air quality.

Options that are being considered as part of the action plan include improving traffic management and seek to prevent vehicular ‘stop/start’ and promote a smooth flow of traffic. Typically, these options could include the provision of extra parking outside of the AQMA, the removal of some on-road parking within the AQMA, better parking enforcement, relocation of bus stops, reviewing pedestrian crossings and improvement of bottle necks.

Summarising Oliver says: “The network of diffusion tubes has enabled us to identify hotspots, and these are the locations at which the AQMesh will be of greatest use because we will be able to study trends and look for the causes of elevated pollution levels at specific times of the day.

“Data from the AQMesh are provided on a website via the ‘Cloud’ so, looking forward, this technology has the potential to make a major difference to air quality improvements and to the transparency and availability of data. For example, it may become possible to integrate air quality monitoring with automatic traffic management.”