Jonathan Catchpole, system architect, TE Connectivity looks at the growing demand for indoor air quality control

Energy efficiency in buildings has made greats strides in terms of energy savings and comfort, notably through building automation systems. However, some measures, such as keeping windows shut to minimise energy losses and limit our carbon footprint, has had an unintended consequence: indoor air quality often decreases. In comparison, proper ventilation improves cognitive function and promotes good health.

According to the WELL Building Institute, poor ventilation has implications for health and quality of life, as well as headache and fatigue. In addition, health researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US found that high levels of CO2 caused a statistically significant drop in decision-making, ability to detect errors and cognitive speed, as well as greater fatigue.

Little wonder then that growing demand for indoor air quality control has been gaining more traction of late. As a result, developers of smart building systems are now looking to integrate sensors to monitor and react to trends in CO2 (or eCO2) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). This is in addition to the four core sensors of temperature, humidity, motion (passive infrared or PIR) and ambient light, as well as microphones that are already used widely.

Collectively these seven sensors enable a smart building system to monitor and respond to occupancy, natural light levels, voice commands, environmental conditions and air quality.

However, the challenge for electronics developers is to integrate up to seven individual sensors, each of which must be sourced, tested and programmed into a single module.

Single module solution

Mindful of this, TE Connectivity developed the AmbiMate MS4 Multi-Sensor Module as a single pre-engineered sensor module that includes the four core sensors with the option of adding a microphone and/or the air quality sensors.

The standalone sensor module comes as a printed circuit board that electronic developers can get up and running quickly. It’s possible to start collecting data within 30 minutes of opening the box with the help of software code from TE’s website. It’s available as a developer kit with different options for sensor content and mechanical connections. a lens, from TE, can be added to detect motion.

Off-the-shelf battery-powered wireless sensor

However, knowing that developers are keen to try out technology quickly, we teamed up with electronics distributor Arrow to package up the AmbiMate with the latest generation of wireless radios from Silicon Labs.

The intention is to offer an off-the-shelf battery-powered sensor module that developers can use to try out different types of radio and sensors together without starting from scratch. Ultimately, developers will choose their favourite components from the ones in the Sentimate and design those into their smart building products.

Proving popular with electronics designers

One Latin American firm has adopted the AmbiMate for air quality management in hospitals and schools. So far, they have developed a Minimal Viable Product with the ultimate goal of exporting across Latin America to support better clinical outcomes in hospitals and improve educational environments.

In addition, the sensor has proven popular with makers. One example is BK Hobby in Philadelphia, who has shared his open-source, open-hardware DIY sensor platform, the Kube Multisensor, on GitHub.

Building on this, the company is planning to launch its own sensor kit in 2020 with a design for a customisable 3D printable housing.