Smart sensors provide low-cost solution to monitor air quality

By Prue Gildea 

An environmental focus of the Australian Integrated Multimodal Ecosystem (AIMES*) has seen a new range of “smart” environmental sensors in place in central Melbourne. The sensors have been installed along Victoria and Alexandra Parade by the University of Melbourne in partnership with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and technology company, Active Reactor Ltd.

The new low-cost sensors called arcHUBs, monitor air quality and for the first time provide detailed information at the local street level. Poor air quality is often due to changing conditions such as traffic and building works.

We wanted to make sure Melbourne enjoyed the benefits of adopting the new smart city technologies appearing now.

“We wanted to make sure Melbourne enjoyed the benefits of adopting the new smart city technologies appearing now” said Dr Behzad Rismanchi of the Department of Infrastructure Engineering at the Melbourne School of Engineering.

The arcHUBs monitor airborne particle concentration hourly and can detect sudden spikes in pollutants. They contain a special sensor to measure fine particle pollution, known as PM10 and PM2.5. These fine particles are known to adversely affect health. They transmit the data back to the investigators over the 4G network so that conditions can be tracked in real time at almost any location in the CBD.

“We developed this sensor so that communities can easily gain accurate and reliable information on what’s going on in their neighbourhood, at a low cost” said Dr Brian Oldland, Director of the arcHUB team Reactor.

One such spike in air pollution took place during cold, calm and foggy conditions in early May this year. Data shows that the conditions occurred across Melbourne on the evening of Friday 11th May resulting in a build up at both monitoring sites that just exceeded the health-based standard level.  Of considerable interest to the investigators, however, was the spike that occurred for an hour at 7pm on Monday 15th May. This exceeded the health standard by a factor of nearly three and was caused by dust and fumes from the construction activity currently progressing along Alexandra Parade.

Gavin Fisher, an air quality scientist at the EPA said, “This new smart sensor system allows us to monitor air quality in ways we have not been able to do before, and helps us keep a watch on air pollution and smoke impacts throughout the city”.

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*AIMES, led by Prof. Majid Sarvi‎ from the Department of Infrastructure Engineering at the Melbourne School of Engineering, is a world-first living laboratory based on the streets of central Melbourne. AIMES was established to test highly integrated transport technology and its ability to deliver safer, cleaner and more sustainable urban transport outcomes.

AIMES is leading the way to a connected transport future by working closely with government and leading industry collaborators. Stay up to date with the latest on AIMES on LinkedIn.