Final Report: AirQAST Portable Automated Air Quality Monitoring

EPA Contract Number: 68HERD19C0019
Title: AirQAST Portable Automated Air Quality Monitoring
Investigators: Valentin, Francisco I
Small Business: Creare LLC
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: May 1, 2019 through October 31, 2019
Project Amount: $99,955
RFA: Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) PHASE I (2018) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: SBIR - Air Quality , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): Phase 1 (2019) , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)

Description:

Creare is developing a multimodal Air Quality sensing unit for real-time data Acquisition Storage and Transmission (AirQAST). AirQAST is an air quality monitoring system, consisting of an integrated sensor package and a complementary FireLink application that promises to provide high-quality, high-reliability fire pollutant data in an extremely compact and rugged weather‑proof enclosure. Current instrumentation capable of providing reliable air quality data is high-cost and impractical for direct use in the field. Emerging low-cost personal air quality monitors are limited in specificity and quality to effectively measure exposure to smoke-related products. Our approach comprises a unique modular system architecture, which integrates particle counters, nondispersive infrared sensors (NDIRs), and electrochemical sensors (ECs) in one device. The system stores the air quality data locally, and transmits it in near-real-time via Bluetooth to approved mobile devices located in the vicinity, which interpret sensor outputs using hardware-specific calibrations and environmental corrections.

Our Phase I efforts focused on development and refinement of all major components of our air quality monitoring platform: a multimodal sensor package with wireless communication; a mobile application for data collection, analysis, and calibration; and outreach to the community. Figure 1 shows the working prototype developed during Phase I.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

AirQAST Air Quality Assessment Platform. During Phase I, we assembled a full prototype consisting of sensor elements, support modular electronics, communication electronics, and a rugged mechanical enclosure. We developed an operational prototype comprising of an Alphasense EC sensor to measure Carbon Monoxide and a Plantower nephelometer to measure particulate matter. The readings are automatically pushed to the user’s smartphone via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communication system where it is tagged with supporting meta-data (date/time, description of the measurement, GPS location, ambient air temperature, and contributor ID) and prepared for quality checks and submission to the FireLink app database. Next generation prototypes will incorporate up to five different sensors and consist of a relatively low-cost bill of materials when fabricated in volume.

Firmware Development. We developed custom firmware for the AirQAST controller electronics to handle power management, sensor reading, and Bluetooth communications. The firmware is designed to manage the device power efficiently and read from multiple external sensor modules concurrently. The firmware handles Bluetooth connection to a compatible BLE device and transmits real-time sensor measurements when requested.

FireLink Application. AirQAST’s software system consists of a smartphone app (FireLink) and back-end server-based data repository. The FireLink app is based on an existing Creare app and cloud ecosystem (https://weathercitizen.org/) originally developed for storage, visualization, and analysis of crowd-sourced weather data collected using smartphones. The FireLink app connects to the AirQAST hardware via BLE and collects data from the device at a user-specified frequency. The app is integrated with the WeatherCitizen cloud-based data repository to enable the automated storage, analysis, and dissemination of all air quality measurements. FireLink provides an interface to the AirQAST hardware to be configured and calibrated in the field or from a remote location.

Community Outreach. We surveyed potential end users and target audiences during Phase I including EPA technical experts, air-quality researchers, and fire managers. This outreach helped define the need in the air-quality community and drive the generation of product requirements through the Phase I effort. We will use these relationships to find early adopters and evaluate future prototypes in the field. Direct end user inputs have helped inform our Phase II design and development plans.

Conclusions:

Current and Future Commercialization. The AirQAST system fills a critical gap in the current state of air pollution monitoring by providing an easily transportable, high accuracy, relatively low-cost monitoring technology with a web-based back end for data storage, visualization, and sharing. We have outlined three main future paths for commercialization: (1) through direct sales from Creare, (2) transition of the technology to Edare Inc. (our manufacturing sister company), or (3) license of the technology to an existing vendor of air sampling instrumentation. Creare has had great success with all three options. We expect to transition the technology using all three paths, in roughly sequential order.

Previous Success. Creare is well qualified to lead the commercialization of this technology, as is evidenced by our DoD commercialization index that exceeds 90% of companies active in the SBIR program. Creare has had numerous successes with commercialization via licensing. Particularly relevant to environmental monitoring, Creare successfully teamed with OpenBCI to commercialize its low-cost, open-source EEG system. This unique product has sold approximately 2000 units worldwide—revenues from which have supported continued technology development and an expansion of the product line. In addition, our last interaction with the EPA SBIR program led to the development of an Indirect Cooling System (ICS), a patented cutting fluid replacement technology used for industrial production, which was sold to 5ME LLC. We expect to follow a similar licensing path for the AirQAST system.

Strong Phase II Development Goals. The technical work performed during Phase I, testing platform including hardware, firmware, and software (e. g., data processing, communications, and user interface) was critical in laying the foundation required for the Phase II work. With Phase II funding we plan to continue refining and maturing our technology. At the end of the Phase II, we plan to deliver fully assembled prototypes to EPA to undergo field testing. These working prototypes will allow us to gather direct feedback from end-users and potential customers. The Phase II work will lay the foundation for follow-on research focusing on device miniaturization and advanced air-quality data products. We expect our Phase I results have demonstrated that our approach is feasible, providing an intuitive, accurate, and comprehensive solution for monitoring air quality in the vicinity of wildfires.