Welcome to installment number thirty of the Design Challenge Project Summary series here at Element14. For those of you who are new to my content, in this series I chose a single Design Challenge project from current or past challenges, and write a short summary of the project to date. I am selective about which projects I summarize, as I want to highlight quality content. Unfortunately, projects that stall out, or get abandoned, are not chosen for summaries. Some project creators like to keep their own project summary going, and this series is not meant to overshadow those post, but to highlight each project from an outsider's perspective.
The subject of this installment is project Invisible Hazardous Environmental Factors Monitoring System which was part of the Safe & Sound Design Challenge. Conceived and built by Douglas Wong (dougw), project Invisible Hazardous Environmental Factors Monitoring System was the grand prize winner of this challenge, and quite frankly, it is one of the best projects I have seen in all of the design challenges I have covered over the last four years. Since this project contained more than twenty updates, I will be skipping some of the shorter updates in this summary.
In the project’s first post Douglas pointed out several invisible, yet potentially dangerous, man made and naturally occurring environmental hazards that could create heath and safety issues for humans living, working, or recreating near them. The list included things like the side effects of RF radiation, radon gas exposure, exposure to UV light, as well as several other scenarios. To help better understand if any of these conditions could be cause for health and safety concerns Doug decided to build system of wearable sensors that would allow researchers to collect data that will be vital to understanding what risk there might be when in these conditions.
In update two, Douglas laid out his plan to build the ultimate wearable, environmental data gathering, system of sensors which would feature several components from Texas Instruments including: the development board as the main board, , , , and WiFi Booster Pack, as well as several supporting sensors from other manufacturers. With the hardware list complete, he then went on to explain that his vision is to build several modules that can be mounted to a user's arms and clothing, each featuring an LCD screen, with the overall look being something that is aesthetically pleasing, and comfortable for the end user. Of course the functionality has to be there as well, and this is why Doug also plans on pushing the data to a networked device via the WiFi Booster Pack, which will allow the data to be analyzed later from the comfort of one's office.
With the concept committed and the outline for success written, it was time for Douglas to begin the process of bringing this monitoring system to life. To do this, he began by talking about what UV radiation is, how it is harmful to humans, and how he plans on measuring it. Since UVA and UVB wavelengths fall between 280 and 400 nm, the ML8511 photodiode was chosen to serve as the projects UV radiation sensor. This did however create a small issue that Douglas was quick to solve. The issue was that while the sensor was designed to measure these wavelengths, it was not designed to be sensitive at the levels of UVA and UVB that reach the Earth from the sun. To rectify this problem he decided to use a general purpose offset and gain adjustment circuit to amplify the signal so that it can be read by the analog channels on the .
Update four was dedicated to Air Quality, and all of the common everyday items that can off gas potentially harmful gasses into the air we breathe. Things like air fresheners, dryer sheets, mattresses, and many other things release gasses that in large enough quantities, could cause health issues in humans and pets. While many of these gasses are easy to identify by their noxious smells, some are odorless, and require detection through other means. Three MQ style gas sensors will be used to detect these so-called “odorless” gasses, with these sensors mating to a custom booster pack that Douglas will design and have manufactured. This was quite a long and informative post, so I highly suggest you read through it to get a better grasps on how each of the three gas sensors will be utilized.
With the arrival of week five, Douglas shifted into high-gear and got to work designing what he dubbed to be the “Hazardous Gasses PCB.” This PCB will house the three gas sensors mentioned in his previous update post, and was designed to fit on top of the just like a normal “booster pack” with its pins carefully selected to avoid interference with other booster packs used in the project. There were however still pin conflicts with certain booster packs, and as such, Douglas created a table showing which pins each booster pack uses. He also advised that one should cross reference this list when using conflicting boards, and adjusting their jumper pins accordingly. Like the last, this update post was incredibly informative, and is a valuable resource to anyone who is mixing and matching booster packs on the .
One odorless and quite deadly gas that was not mentioned earlier is Radon Gas, which is a radioactive noble gas that emits an alpha particle when it decays. Update six tackled this issue. These alpha particles are able to penetrate human flesh, killing the cells they penetrate, and sometimes modifying the DNA contained within them, which is what makes them so harmful to humans. While these alpha particles do not penetrate our exterior flesh very far, they are able to penetrate lung tissue quite well, leading to lung cancer and other illnesses when radon gas is inhaled. Unfortunately measuring Radon levels is a time consuming process that involves analog capture methods like charcoal canisters, and laboratory-grade measuring equipment. In an attempt to somewhat detect the presence of radon gas, Douglas plans on using a Radiascan 701 radiation detector to detect a presence of alpha particles. This device features a USB port for remotely monitoring the data it collects which should allow for that data to be ported to the monitoring system fairly easy.
In the project’s seventh update, Douglas posted a short video of himself unboxing the challenger kit, so head to the link above if you want to check that out. Moving on to update eight Doug went about configuring the system to work with the , which involved desoldering an SMD resistor and moving it to another location on the booster pack’s PCB. With that done, the next hurdle to overcome was getting the LCD and to play together nicely in Energia, which culminated in Douglas sharing the source code to make this happen, as well as a short demo video of the project so far.
Update nine was a short one describing Douglas’ struggles with MQTT, some of which caused a lot of stress. If you are having trouble with MQTT and the, be sure to check out the link above for some links to additional software that might be required to make everything work as it should. His tenth update was quite short as well, with Douglas showcasing the Hazardous Factors Sensor PCB that had arrived. He includes a short demo video in each of these post, so be sure to check them out.
A week later, we saw Douglas walking around his town and around his home checking the levels of extremely low frequency electromagnetic radiation that exist in everyday life. Everything from the power lines feeding our homes, to the electric razors we shave with emit ELF electromagnetic radiation. Measuring these levels at different locations could prove to be useful in studies on how certain technologies can cause harm to humans. Doug ended this post after displaying readings from around his town and home, and said that he would revisit the topic at a later date.
Fast Forward a couple of weeks and Douglas has gotten more work done on the MQTT side of things, as well as finishing up the design and 3D printing of a housing for the various wearable sensor packages. This brings us up to the week fourteen project update post, which starts off with a demo video showing off the progress on the project so far, and ends with a short section on the radiation meter that Douglas purchased for the project.
Week fifteen arrived with another project update post on microwaves, and their dangers to living organisms. Douglas showed off more test he had conducted. Unfortunately there was still no mention as to how he would integrate this data into the project, but he did summarize his findings and offer tips to help those interested reduce their exposure to microwave radiation.
Another week passed which meant that another project update was to come. This time, we got a better look at the booster pack hardware stack fully assembled. Although Douglas was feeling a bit under the weather, he managed to finish assembling the gas sensor board, and showcased an older RF sensing board he built previously for another project. While he still had some of these boards, he opted to go with another pre-built solution that featured an OLED screen to display its data. Unfortunately the pre built unit that he ordered was sensitive in the wrong frequency range, forcing him to order another unit of the proper specifications.
With the end of the challenge almost here, Douglas dedicated the project’s eighteenth update to showcasing what the completed project looked like and was capable of doing. He said that most of the previous week was spent designing and 3D printing more enclosures, and working out all of the mounting options as well as tweaking things to function better. The end result was nothing less than amazing, and what I feel is one of the better design challenge projects we have had here at Element14. The project continued on after this date (and the challenge’s closing) with Douglas running more microwave radiation test, project spin-off’s, and a couple (1, 2) of other update post showcasing more testing that he did after the challenge’s end. Be sure to check them out before you are finished with this summary.
That is going to wrap up my project summary coverage of project Invisible Hazardous Environmental Factors Monitoring System. After watching this project develop from the start, I was sure that it would place high with our judges, and my assumptions were correct. Douglas was named the grand prize winner of the Safe and Sound Wearables Design Challenge. While my coverage, opinions, and writings have no weight with the judges, I felt that this project was the clear winner due to its in depth updates, and how educational nearly all of its blog post were. Douglas tackled many issues head first, and instead of abandoning the project, or removing features, he found solutions to them, even if that solution took days to figure out. Douglas has always had very well written and very technical yet easy to follow project updates, so I expected nothing less from him, and he did just that. Future challengers would be wise to study his past projects, and take note of how they flow, and the level of detail they feature. This post is getting quite long, so I am going to end it here. If you have not yet read through the whole project, I highly suggest doing so by visiting its blog page. Tune in later this week for another Design Challenge Project Summary here at Element14. Until then, Hack The World, and Make Awesome!