sensors

EPA Wants Creative Solutions to a Common Problem

By Dustin Renwick

Flushing is the easy part. What happens in our sewer systems after that remains unseen, hidden in the aging network of millions of miles of underground pipes.

Sometimes the pipes overflow due to heavy rain and storms. In fact, the Cincinnati area’s combined sewer systems discharge about 16 billion gallons of raw sewage mixed with storm water in just one year. This gunk pollutes local streams and rivers, as we’ve explained before.

One problem in reducing stormwater overflows is a lack of real-time information. In many areas, sewage overflows require manual monitoring from local utilities. Meanwhile, some wireless sensors do exist, but their cost remains prohibitively high for wide use.

EPA has partnered with Cincinnati Innovates, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District, and the Northern Kentucky Sewer District 1 to launch a new challenge that calls for creative thinkers and fresh ideas.

The challenge will reward designs that create inexpensive, low-maintenance sensors to help monitor sewer overflows. This new generation of sensors would allow companies to improve their operational efficiency and meet sewer overflow requirements set by the Clean Water Act.

EPA will reward $10,000 for at least one submitted  solution. The challenge closes Sept. 2.

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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My Air, My Health Challenge Winner Announced!

My Air, My Health Banner

Today, EPA and the National Institutes of Health announced the winner of the My Air, My Health Challenge. The Challenge called upon innovators nationwide to design a small, low-cost sensor that integrates air quality measurements with related health data, such as heart rate and breathing.

From a collection of proposals, four finalists were selected in November 2012 to move to the second phase of the competition that involved the development of working prototypes. Three finalists successfully designed prototypes, and the winner was announced this morning at Health Datapalooza IV.

Check out the press release or the @EPAresearch Twitter feed using #MyAir. Please also share any thoughts or comments you have in the comments section below.

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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A Summer at the Edge

By Tyler Feitshans

Summer at the Edge (SATE), a program sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory and led by Research Director Dr. Rob Williams, brings together high school and college level students to develop technology that benefits both soldiers and citizens. This year at SATE, I was given the unique opportunity to lead a project with help from mentors at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

My team’s project, called Project Tricorder, originated from the idea of adding external hardware to smartphones and tablets to collect environmental data on a large scale.  I saw this as a clear opportunity to help monitor the world around us through specialized environmental sensors.  Our student team and our mentors from EPA’s Innovation Team shared an interest and excitement about developing this idea.

Sensor Prototype

The overall goal of our project is to develop a nationwide sensor grid, measuring everything from air pollution levels to water quality.  Project Tricorder aims to make the grid work with any sensor, but we are also developing a sensor prototype. This prototype, called a Tricorder, is a cheap sensor pod with removable sensor bays that allow users to quickly adapt the device to detect the information relevant in a given location. Testing of the prototype has included simple environmental measurements, such as temperature and wind speed, as well as information related to health monitoring, such as carbon monoxide and radiation levels.

Our sensor grid allows Tricorder users to upload data and photos from any location with cell phone access.  As data is gathered, it can be displayed in two ways: (1) a graph showing data trends over time; and (2) a map displaying locational data using Google maps.  The readily-available data from our project will help communities and policy-makers make quick decisions related to local air quality.

I think the development of Tricorders that work with mobile phones will be a valuable tool in knowing what’s happening in the world around us and will create a number of environmental benefits in the future.  This technology also has a number of other applications, specifically in the realms of healthcare and security.

If you’re interested in learning more about our project, you can check out @EPAresearch today for updates from the end of the year SATE Open House. Our EPA mentors will be sending updates and photos of the event via Twitter.

You can also check out a video we made by clicking the link below.

Summer at the Edge – Project Tricorder Video

About the author: Tyler Feitshans will be a Junior Computer Engineering student at Ohio Northern University this Fall.   He is currently the Team Lead for Project Tricorder and began participating in the SATE program as a high school student.

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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Not Your Usual Summer Vacation

by Dena Vallano

For many high school and college students, summer means lazy days by the pool and not cracking open a textbook until September. However, some students are not only excited to spend their summer learning, but spend 10 weeks immersed in a fast-paced, interactive, research program called Summer at the Edge (SATE) offered through the Air Force Research Lab’s Wright Brothers Institute (WBI). A technology powerhouse that fosters world-class research and development collaborations and technology innovation, WBI brings together some of the best and brightest high school and college level students to tackle challenging research problems.

This summer, the EPA and WBI have joined forces to ask a team of 14 students a question that impacts both the EPA and the Air Force Research Lab: can citizen scientists use inexpensive, real-time sensors to collect air quality data and better understand air pollution trends in their communities?

Project Tricorder's Sensor Prototype

Through this partnership, my colleagues on EPA’s Innovation Team and I are serving as mentors to the talented young scientists as they try to piece together an answer to this question. We are working with team members of Project Tricorder, who have ambitiously set out to create a multi-faceted sensor network connected to an Android smartphone platform. As mentors, we have engaged with the team to help define their project topic and questions, provided resources on several Do-It-Yourself (DIY) air monitoring sensors, and answered technical questions related to air monitoring, data interpretation, and visualization.

I have truly enjoyed engaging these students and am continually impressed with their enthusiasm and quality of work.  Their excitement is palpable and definitely contagious. For example, the student team just sent us a prototype of their sensor housing for review – and I was completely blown away!

The students have been diligently working through June and July to develop a prototype of and test their sensor, which will measure environmental, health, and security factors such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide pollution, pulse rate, radiation, and motion. All of their hard work will finally pay off when they, along with several other student research teams, have the opportunity to demonstrate their final product at the Summer at the Edge Open House on August 13th at Wright State University. Over 100 students across more than 30 student research teams will be there to show off projects from a wide range of fields including smartphone app development, virtual reality, cyber security, and many others.

Tune into @EPAresearch on August 13 as we send updates and pictures of the exciting projects we discover at the Open House, including the sensor network developed by Project Tricorder. I have a feeling this won’t be your typical school report on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”

About the author: Dr. Dena Vallano is currently a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in EPA’s Immediate Office of the Assistant Administrator for Research and Development. Prior to her fellowship, she was a postdoctoral scholar in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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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