According to the World Health Organisation, poor outdoor air quality caused an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths in 2016. The solution is a multi-pronged approach, where the first steps are understanding the peaks and troughs of air pollution, as well as monitor the areas that are the most polluted. IoT is the perfect solution for monitoring, as boards can be rolled out with a number of different sensors. The collected data can then be displayed and analysed to draw meaningful conclusions from.
Pyonair is an academic project that was set up by the University of Southampton. We spoke to them about their plans and how they went about creating a pollution monitor for a smart city.
What challenges did you face in your industry that led to you choosing Pycom?
The air pollution monitors that we developed as part of the PyonAir needed to consume very little power and transmit data wirelessly, ideally over a combination of networks: WiFi and LoRa in particular. In order to compete with existing pollution monitoring networks, our overall aim is to implement a high-resolution network, with many data collection sites – in turn, requiring each individual monitor to be compact and low-cost. The LoPy4 met these needs in a single package.
How would you describe your process in one sentence prior to using our product?
Although we considered alternative platforms before beginning the project, we performed all of our development with the intention to use Pycom boards.
What were the main deciding factors for you to use Pycom?
One of our main concerns was ensuring the cost per pollution monitor would be around £100, making it viable to produce a comparatively high-resolution network.
How did you first hear about Pycom?
One of the project organisers, Dr Ossont, had been using Pycom hardware for years. He knew that it was up to the task and was familiar with its abilities.
What most attracted you to our products?
The combination of a python-based development environment and built-in wireless capabilities across a range of networks made the LoPy4 ideal for our project. We also operate a LoRaWAN network with coverage across the whole of Southampton, TheThingsNetwork: Southampton.
How do you use our products in your solution?
Centred around Pycom’s LoPy4 board, PyonAir will transmit data over both LoRa and WiFi networks. Pycom’s diverse range of LoRa modules makes it possible to set up the device in any country with LoRa or WiFi coverage. This is paired a custom open-hardware PCB design, manufactured by Seeed Studio, which offers incredible flexibility. Seeed Studio’s plug-and-play Grove system allows users to tailor the device for their own projects, swapping sensors in seconds. The best bit is that no soldering is required!
The PyonAir device will be fitted with two particulate matter (PM) air pollution sensors, which detect pollutants like dust and smoke. Additionally, Grove GPS, temperature and humidity sensors and a backup clock will provide context for the PM readings. These all work to make it easier to spot patterns and trends in the collected data. Extra I2C compatible sensors can easily be linked up to the PyonAir PCB, requiring only a clip-on splitter cable.
The PCB offers two options for component population. Users seeking a device that’s ready to go with minimal assembly can buy the board from Seeed Studio’s Fusion PCBA service, which comes populated with surface mount components. However, low-budget or educational projects may wish to purchase the empty boards and solder components by hand. To facilitate this, the PCB was designed so that every component has a through-hole mounting option, making the board easy to solder – even for beginners!
PyonAir’s opensource software plays a crucial role in making the device user-friendly. After following a simple tutorial, users will be able to download the entire software package from Github directly to the LoPy4, making life that bit easier. The device configuration can be accessed by connecting to the PyonAir’s own WiFi hotspot, using a phone, laptop or any system with a web browser. All of the collected data will be sent to the open-acess PyonAir database and will be accessible via a Microsoft Azure Table.
Prototypes of the PyonAir have already been shared with researchers in Vietnam and Denmark, with plans to share the device with even more teams worldwide. PyonAir is now entering the final testing phase, with the deployment of 100 devices across Southampton scheduled for late September. We are super excited for the future of PyonAir and we hope that this helps tackle the rising levels of air pollution.
What results have you seen since implementing them?
We proven the concept works and we are now looking to rollout devices for academic purposes.
What would you tell others who are undecided about Pycom?
The large number of GPIO pins and compatibility with UART, SPI and I2C allowed us to connect every sensor we wanted to the LoPy4. This, combined with the impressive processing power, let us gather and process all the data we needed with just one development board.
We were incredibly grateful for Pycom’s technical and commercial support throughout our project and look forward to collaborating with them again soon.
More information about the PyonAir Pollution Monitor and how to build one yourself: