(Image Credit: Sensly)
Pollution in cities is a serious concern. In 2008, there were 4,300 premature deaths in London that was attributed to long-term exposure to dangerous airborne particles. In areas such as Hackney, pollution levels have been reported as 50% above the EU limit.
John Whiting, from the Bristol Robotics Lab, is part of the team working on Sensly – a smart gas sensor for homes and smart cities. The device has just left a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding phase and is now looking forward to how the device can offer actionable insights about air quality to local councils and individuals.
When asked where the idea came from, Whiting told us their market research showed a serious issue with air pollution. "We didn't actually realise it was such a big issue in the UK until we started looking into it further," he said.
Sensly isn't the first device to monitor air pollution levels, but it's among the first aiming to integrate directly with the growing trend of smart cities. Bristol is hoping to be a leading smart city in the coming years, and has launched the 'Bristol is Open' project which links sensor data from around the city with a fast dedicated infrastructure.
Talks have begun with Bristol Council who appears keen to integrate Sensly into the smart city, but nothing is yet confirmed. The council took notice of Sensly after they competed in Pitch@Palace held at the Engine Shed venue in the city, and could see the team was serious and ready to move the product forward.
Across the UK, the government is pumping money into smart cities through a fund known as 'Innovate UK' which helps to develop relevant projects. Whiting says: "One of the requirements is that a local government has to work alongside small businesses, so I think that's one of the reasons why they're partnering with a lot of local projects like Bristol is Open – and hopefully us – to make these things a reality."
The Sensly team are working on how to make their device suitable for outdoor use – like it would be in a smart city deployment – through the development of waterproof-casing and the research of methods to make the battery last as long as possible.
Battery life is often a concern with smart city deployments as they can be deployed in areas without ready access to a constant power supply. Earlier this week, we reported on an innovation called 'Freevolt' that was announced by Drayson Technologies which uses residual waves from wireless and broadcast networks such as 2G, 3G, 4G, WiFi, and Digital TV, to fuel low-power devices. The problem is, most IoT devices like Sensly require a fair amount of power to offer real-time data.
Nonetheless, that data is valuable. "Not just governments, but also local people can log-on and see where there is a hotspot of bad pollution. Now more than ever, people are starting to realise the issue that pollution can cause," Whiting says.
He continues: "I know in London they have similar projects where you can go online and see which roads are bad with air pollution. I saw an article which says they've found that even going down side roads instead of main roads can help your health."
Before the product is integrated with the smart city, it will first be a part of the smart home. To ensure interoperability between devices, the Sensly team are currently working on implementing the HyperCat IoT standard.
Sensly is almost ready to go in terms of completion. The team already has a working prototype, and will now focus on some last tweaks which ensure the product is both accurate and prepared for everyday use by the consumer.
Whiting says: "Everything is already working, at the moment we're just upgrading the sensors a bit to ensure they're accurate. Apart from that, it will be a case of developing weatherproof casing – which shouldn't be difficult as we have 3D printers to prototype quickly – and making sure the battery technology works and we can provide real-time updates."
Although the current device monitors a range of air pollution components – including killers such as Benzene and Carbon Monoxide – the team are looking into even more sensors. One stretch goal which crowdfunders met is to add a pollen detector which could provide an at-a-glance view at whether hayfever sufferers might want to top-up on their antihistamines that morning.
We'll be keeping an eye on Sensly and will get a device in our hands soon as possible to show-off a few of its capabilities!
Do you think pollution detectors like Sensly will be an important addition to smart cities? Let us know in the comments.
Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their IoT use-cases? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.