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Sensors and Sensibility

2012 September 26

By Vasu Kilaru

Around us every day are technologies that give us access to more information at our fingertips than any generation has ever had.  As an EPA scientist, I’m pretty thrilled about these innovations and what they mean for environmental protection.

One exciting new initiative in that realm here at EPA is called Apps and Sensors for Air Pollution or ASAP. This new aspect of our research came out of the recognition that the advances in sensor technologies are unfolding at the same amazing pace that we all see with new cellphone and smartphone technologies.

Cellphones already have a variety of sensors built in:  light sensors and proximity sensors to manage display brightness, accelerometers used as switches or to characterize motion, GPS to provide mapping and locational services, compass and gyroscope to provide direction and orientation, microphones for audio, and a camera for video/photography.

These capabilities have led to the logical coupling of other sensors, such as for air pollution monitoring or biometric measurements, with smartphones.

Traditionally, air monitoring technologies were costly to setup and maintain, and therefore were put under the purview of governments (federal and state). Now, new miniature sensor technologies are more affordable and have the advantage of being highly portable. These developments in sensor technology present an exciting new frontier where monitoring will be more democratic and available much more widely. Parallel to these developments are sensors that measure physiological conditions such as heart rate or blood oxygen levels.

Pairing environmental sensors with ones that measure biological conditions could herald a new era for both environmental protection as well as healthcare. Future developments in these sensor technologies ultimately have the capacity to help people make better decisions regarding their environment and their own health.

So we are excited to do our part in bringing new technologies to you.  If you’re going to the World Maker Faire in New York this weekend (September 29-30), stop by our EPA booth, we’d love to talk about how DIYers, makers, inventors can help make a greener future.

About the Author: Vasu Kilaru works in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He is currently working on the apps and sensors for air pollution initiative (ASAP) helping the Agency develop its strategic role and response to new sensor technology developments.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Dan Whittet permalink
    September 26, 2012

    Although I cannot attend the Maker Faire event I hope you will be my “human sensor” for new developments in this area, it is fascinating and has great potential in terms of feedback loops, better interoperability of systems and, potentially, healthier environments. One concern I have centers on the increasing amount of digital data processed, we need to remember that data centers and data processing have environmental loads. ( The sum of all data centers would equal the energy use of the fifth largest country, or some such statistic )
    One promising area I suppose is the development of higher computing efficiencies, and ever smaller more specialized devices and micro controllers. Keep an eye out for smartphone enabled spectroscopy will you?

    • Vasu Kilaru at EPA permalink
      September 26, 2012

      Dan, sounds like you have a real keen interest in these developments. I plan to take some time to browse what other makers are doing in the area of sensors and apps. We will also be tweeting from the Maker Faire (@EPAresearch) so you can follow us on that. I hope to also followup with a blog post after the event so stay tuned. Also, CITIZENAIR.NET is also a good source for more information on sensors. And indeed you are correct, everthing has a cost, even in the knowledge economy. I had not heard that statistic about the energy use by data centers.

  2. Arman.- permalink
    September 26, 2012

    ASAP : Exciting…..!

    Next Millenium, the people who are journey around the universe could tell the stories to their children, that the tools on clothes accessories were created by U.S. EPA Scientists. And they should enjoy it………..!

    • Vasu Kilaru at EPA permalink
      September 26, 2012

      Arman, thank you for your comment. I am sure that in the future clothing will incorporate sensors in them, which may use human locomotion as a power source.

  3. Jeffery Robichaud permalink
    September 26, 2012

    Vasu you need to give us a call at EPA in Kansas City. We have an app we created called KCWaterBug that uses real time monitors and the GOES satellite network to provide the public with updated hourly estimates of bacteria concentrations in the KC metro. Took my boys to Maker Faire in KC earlier this year and they loved. Had I known EPA could have a booth we would have particpated. One of our scientists is giving a presentation at a STEM event later this year.

  4. Afsheen sabir ali permalink
    April 9, 2013

    Hi………..I read EPA and i would like if u do a counseling as I have done my master in botany (ecology). I really want to write article and do practice on environmental hazard and their effect on human

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