From The Editor | May 2, 2023

Environmental Sensors: Where And How They're Being Used

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By John Oncea, Editor


Environmental sensors, spurred on by the rapidly developing Internet of Things, are becoming better at evaluating soil chemical composition, water purity, air quality, and more. They are also being used in more unique ways, both personally and by industry.

What measures, monitors, and records environmental parameters such as humidity, temperature, and heat loss, are used to monitor air pollution, and have an expected market worth of $13.53 billion by 2029? Why, environmental sensors, of course.*

Environmental sensors are just one of several technologies used to create environmental monitoring systems: the others being data acquisition systems (data logger), data transfer systems, data management systems, and data analysis. An environmental monitoring system observes and analyzes data coming from the environment to determine its quality and the impact human activities have on it.

Once the data is analyzed, researchers can better determine everything from what is causing climate change to the deterioration of buildings and keep tabs on the quality of life in smart cities concerning pollution, overpopulation, and waste disposal.

Meticulous Research’s report Environmental Sensor Market by Type (Particulate & Gas Sensors, Chemical Sensors, Temperature Sensors, Noise Sensors), Application, End User (Residential, Government & Public Utilities, Commercial, and Industrial) –Global Forecast to 2029, in addition to projecting the market’s growth over the next several years, notes industries and organizations such as “government and public utilities, residential, and commercial are deploying this technology on a considerable scale.

“The rising installation of environmental monitoring stations, increasing use of environmental sensors in the industrial sector, and stringent environmental regulations to reduce environmental pollution are the key factors driving the growth of the environmental sensors market.”

Meticulous Research does point out, “The lack of awareness and high costs associated with environmental sensors (could) challenge the market's growth” but “the ongoing technological advancement in IoT and cloud-based services and the growing adoption of nanotechnology-based environmental monitoring products are expected to offer significant growth.”

* Maybe the first environmental sensor was the canary in the coal mine. From 1911 to 1986, canaries were used to detect carbon monoxide and other toxic gasses before they hurt miners.

6 Industries Using Environmental Sensors

“From healthcare to food production, sensors play a key role in improving and maintaining physical safety, operations, and quality assurance across organizations,” writes Verkada. “Sensor data also can be analyzed for trends to help drive evidence-based decisions.”

Far from a complete list, Verkada offers up six industries that are benefiting from this technology, each in its own way.

  • Schools and education: For school staff and administrators, keeping students and faculty safe is their top priority. Sensors can detect the presence of tobacco, THC, and vape smoke, effectively monitoring areas such as bathrooms where smoking and vaping are known to take place. In addition, noise monitoring sensors can alert staff to fighting and violence when alerted to spikes in decibel levels.
  • Manufacturing: A highly regulated industry, using sensors to monitor temperature and humidity in supply and storage rooms, as well as to monitor decibel levels, goes a long way to keeping employees safe and regulators away.
  • Hospitals and healthcare: Perhaps the most regulated industry, environmental sensors in ICUs, surgery rooms, and recovery units help keep a healthcare organization clean and secure. More importantly, they are used to keep patients safe by reducing noise, detecting smoking, and making certain food and medications are stored properly.
  • Food processing and production: The food production industry is audited by several governmental bodies that include OSHA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (maybe this is the most regulated industry?). As such, sensors can be deployed to monitor for harmful chemicals, as well as to keep the temperature and humidity in check.
  • Warehousing, distribution, and logistics: Environmental sensors can be integrated into a larger physical security system to help organizations ensure compliance with chain-of-custody regulations (especially for sensitive cargo), centralized remote management, enable real-time visibility over inventory, and prevent loss or damage of goods.
  • Hospitality and property management: Monitoring units for noise, smoking, and occupancy is a constant need and sensors are an effective way to do just that. Property managers can be notified if temperature, humidity, PM 2.5, or TVOC reach intolerable levels and fix the problem, keeping tenants happy and equipment safe and secure.

Using Environmental Sensors On A Smaller Scale (Like Yourself)

“By making these sensors small and usually Bluetooth or Wi-Fi enabled, merely carrying out our normal daily routines could make citizen scientists of us all, significantly increasing the amount and precision of environmental data through crowdsourcing,” writes Treehugger. “Having specific, real-time information can not only let someone with asthma know areas to avoid on any given day but gives scientists a better picture of where, when, and why pollution is happening, which is necessary to take steps to make it better.”

With that in mind, here is a sampling of some of the most interesting sensor technologies cited by Treehugger.

  • AirBot and WaterBot: Both developed by Carnegie Mellon University, these two devices monitor airborne pollutants and test water quality, respectively. AirBot can help people who suffer from asthma while WaterBot uploads pollution data so that everyone who lives near that water source can stay informed.
  • Lapka Environmental Monitor: This is a set of environmental sensors that plug into an iPhone and detect radiation, electromagnetic feedback, nitrates in raw foods, and temperature and humidity, so not only can they give you some simple environmental data, but they also can tell you if your food is organic.

iGeigie: Developed after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the iGeigie is a portable Geiger counter that docks with an iPhone. By calling the phone, users can listen to clicks that indicate how much radiation is in the area. The major goal of the developers is to create a sensor network for nuclear radiation where data could be mapped and government groups, NGOs, and widespread citizen scientists alike could all be sources making sure no potentially affected areas are left out.