The Electric Imp Sniffs out California Wildfires

The wildfires in California are now officially the largest the state has ever seen. Over 50,000 people have been displaced from their homes, hundreds are missing, and the cost in property damage will surely be measured in the billions of dollars when all is said and done. With a disaster of this scale just the immediate effects are difficult to conceptualize, to say nothing of the collateral damage.

While not suggesting their situation is comparable to those who’ve lost their homes or families, Electric Imp CEO [Hugo Fiennes] has recently made a post on their blog calling attention to the air quality issues they’re seeing at their offices in Los Altos. To quantify the problem so that employees with respiratory issues would know the conditions before they came into work, they quickly hacked together a method for displaying particulate counts in their Slack server.

The key to the system is one of the laser particle sensors that we’re starting to see more of thanks to a fairly recent price drop on the technology. A small fan pulls air to be tested into the device, where a very sensitive optical sensor detects the light reflected by particles as they pass through the laser beam. The device reports not only how many particles are passing through it, but how large they are. The version of the sensor [Hugo] links to in his blog post includes an adapter board to make it easier to connect to your favorite microcontroller, but we’ve previously seen DIY builds which accomplish the same goal.

[Hugo] then goes on to provide firmware for the Electric Imp board that reads the current particulate counts from the sensor and creates a simple web page that can be viewed from anywhere in the world to see real-time conditions at the office. From there, this data can be plugged into a Slack webhook which will provide an instantaneous air quality reading anytime a user types “air” into the channel.

We’ve covered a number of air quality sensors over the years, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to become any less prevalent as time goes on. If anything, we’re seeing a trend towards networks of distributed pollution sensors so that citizens can collect their own data on their air they’re breathing.

[Thanks to DillonMCU for the tip.]

Monitoring Air Quality, One Sleepy Meeting At A Time

To those of us in the corporate world, the conference room is where hope goes to die. Crammed into a space too small for the number of invitees, the room soon glows with radiated body heat and the aromas of humans as the time from their last shower gradually increases. To say it’s not a recipe for productivity is an understatement at best.

Having suffered through too many of these soporific situations, [Charles Ouweland] took matters into his own hands and built this portable air quality meter for meetings. With an OLED display on top and sensors inside, it displays not only the temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure, but also the CO₂ concentration and the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC), noxious substances sometimes off-gassed from building materials, furniture upholstery, and coworkers alike.

The monitor quantifies his meeting misery, which we’re sure wins him points with his colleagues. For our part, though, what we find interesting is his design process. He started where many of us would, with an Arduino Uno. The sensor modules, a CCS811 for VOC and CO₂ as well as a BME280 for temperature, humidity, and pressure, both needed 3.3 volts, so he added a regulator to knock the Arduino’s 5-volt supply into range and some MOSFETs for level matching. Things were getting bulky, though, so he set about reducing the component count. The Uno went by stripping out its already programmed MCU. That killed the need for the regulator and MOSFETs, since everything would be happy with 3.3 volts. A few more rounds of optimization led to the final product, compact enough to run on a pair of AA batteries.

This is a great lesson in going from prototype to product. And it’s so compact, it could even ride on top of a Roomba to map the conference room’s floor-level air quality.

Hackers vs. Mold: Building a Humidistat Fan

Having a mold problem in your home is terrible, especially if you have an allergy to it. It can be toxic, aggravate asthma, and damage your possessions. But let’s be honest, before you even get to those listed issues, having mold where you live feels disgusting.

You can clean it with the regular use of unpleasant chemicals like bleach, although only with limited effectiveness. So I was not particularly happy to discover mold growing on the kitchen wall, and decided to do science at it. Happily, I managed to fix my mold problems with a little bit of hacker ingenuity.

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Distributed Air Quality Monitoring via Taxi Fleet

When [James] moved to Lima, Peru, he brought his jogging habit with him. His morning jaunts to the coast involve crossing a few busy streets that are often occupied by old, smoke-belching diesel trucks. [James] noticed that his throat would tickle a bit when he got back home. A recent study linking air pollution to dementia risk made him wonder how cities could monitor air quality on a street-by-street basis, rather than relying on a few scattered stations. Lima has a lot of taxis, so why wire them up with sensors and monitor the air quality in real-time?

This taxi data logger’s chief purpose is collect airborne particulate counts and illustrate the pollution level with a Google Maps overlay. [James] used a light-scattering particle sensor and a Raspi 3 to send the data to the cloud via Android Things. Since the Pi only has one native UART, [James] used it for the particle sensor and connected the data-heavy GPS module through an FTDI serial adapter. There’s also a GPS to locate the cab and a temperature/humidity/pressure sensor to get a fuller environmental picture.

Take a ride past the break to go on the walk through, and stick around for the testing video if you want to drive around Lima for a bit. Interested in monitoring your own personal air quality? Here’s a DIY version that uses a dust sensor.

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A Portable, Accurate, Low-Cost, Open Source Air Particle Counter

If you live in a city with poor air quality you may be aware that particulates are one of the chief contributors to the problem. Tiny particles of soot from combustion, less than 10μm across, hence commonly referred to as PM10. These are hazardous because they can accumulate deep in the lungs, wherein all kinds of nasties can be caused.

There are commercial sensors available to detect and quantify these particles, but they are neither inexpensive nor open source. [Rundong] tells us about a project that aims to change that situation, the MyPart, which is described as a portable, accurate, low-cost, open source air particle counter. There is a GitHub repository for the project as well as a series of Instructables covering the build in detail. It comes from a team of members of the Hybrid Ecologies Lab at UC Berkeley, USA.

Along the way, they provide a fascinating description of how a particulate sensor works. A laser shines at right angles across a photodiode, and is brought to a focal point above it. Any particulates in the air will scatter light in the direction of the photodiode, which can thus detect them. The design of a successful such sensor requires a completely light-proof chamber carefully built to ensure a laminar flow of air past laser and diode. To that end, their chamber has several layers and is machined rather than 3D-printed for internal smoothness.

We’ve covered quite a few environmental sensors over the years here at Hackaday. An open source volatile organic compound (VOC) detector featured last year for example, or this Raspberry Pi-based  system using a commercial gas sensor.

Air Quality Sensors in Every Classroom

One of the first electronics projects for the aspiring hobbyist is wiring a sensor of some sort to a microcontroller, and then doing something useful with the new information. [Brock] has taken this type of gateway project and turned it into a way to get his students involved and familiar with electronics. His take on an air quality meter accomplishes both of these goals, and hopefully helps turn all of his students into the next generation of hackers.

The bill of materials is pretty straightforward. Instead of the go-to Arduino, [Brock] has gone with a Particle Photon which has the added benefits of various wireless connectivity options. The air quality sensor is a Shinyei PP42ns which interfaces easily with the Photon. The only thing that might be out of reach of most public high schools (at least in the United States) is the 3D-printed enclosure, although if you have access to one, [Brock] put the files on the project page so anyone can use them.

Of course, we’re big fans of projects that get students involved in anything beyond standardized tests, and this project goes a long way towards teaching students more than how to pass a test. There are many videos and instructions on the project page if you want to try this on your own, but if the cost for the materials is the only thing scaring you off from doing this in your own classroom there are a few other options. You could use ATtiny chips, or try a different style of sensor, or maybe just try out a different project altogether.

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DIY Air Quality Meter And Emissions Tester

Handheld measuring devices make great DIY projects. One can learn a lot about a sensor or sensor technology by just strapping it onto a spare development board together with an LCD for displaying the sensor output. [Richard’s] DIY air quality meter and emissions tester is such a project, except with the custom laser-cut enclosure and the large graphic LCD, his meter appears already quite professional.

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