MSU engineering group develops detection method for air pollution
An engineering group at MSU developed a system that will help with the quality of air in people’s homes.
“Briefly, it’s really about developing a technology to help people become more aware of their indoor air pollution because in Michigan there is not so much outdoor air pollution, but the indoor air is often polluted by our daily household activities,” Mi Zhang, MSU assistant professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said.
Zhang said their technological development, called AirSense, is an improvement to the identification of bad pollutants.
“We came up with this idea to focus on monitoring indoor air pollution and we actually take a further step in terms of we’re not only telling you how bad the pollution is, we’ll also help to identify the pollution sources, so you can remove the source once the system tells you what it is,” Zhang said.
Zhang said the indoor air pollutants can be five to 10 times worse than the outdoor air, but people do not know that for a variety of reasons, including that there is plenty of systems designed to monitor outdoor air pollution, but there is not sufficient resources available to detect indoor air.
The cost to develop the sensors used to detect air pollution vary greatly. Zhang said they have multiple sensors with just only being considered expensive, but added that you can build a sensor for around $50.
“Normally for those (technologies) which monitor outdoor air (they are) very expensive,” Zhang said. “Not only until recent years, the cost of the sensors dropped down, and so that we can (use low-cost) technology to help us monitor indoor air.”
Electrical engineering doctoral student Biyi Fang was also a member of the team that helped create AirSense and was considered the leader of the project. Fang said a person can have their phone connected to sensor inside of their home and can receive instant updates on the air quality in their home.
“Talking about actionable suggestions, we mean that if you are polluting the air (by) smoking indoors, we immediately give you a notification on your smart phone saying you should stop smoking indoors,” Fang said. “You should go outside and smoke and then open the window.”
Fang said the notifications on their phone will raise awareness of indoor air pollution and that it is one of the key features of this project.
“(AirSense is) very quick in reaction,” Fang said. “So when you smoke, we can tell you (are smoking) within three minutes, so within three minutes, we don’t want to wait too long to tell you otherwise, you will get exposed to huge amounts of pollution indoors.”
To test the accuracy of AirSense, Fang said that they used three families and divided the test into two parts: one with only the AirSense sensor and the other with the sensor and the smartphone notification system.
“The results showed that the second phase average pollution of these three families are drastically lower than the first phase of these three families,” Fang said.
Xiaobo Tan, MSU professor for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, whose research is mainly focused on the marine environment, was not affiliated with the project, but was highly supportive of it.
"I generally appreciate the importance of monitoring our environment,” Tan said. “These technologies certainly are very good opportunities for us to have that kind of capability.”