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Environmental sensors and pandemic management

It is now well known that the pandemic has placed a great deal of emphasis on the healthiness of indoor places, be they schools, offices, production plants, apartment blocks, etc. At the beginning of the so-called phase two there was a boom in thermal imaging cameras. But as soon as the emergency seemed to be over, the sales of these instruments dropped sharply.


With the "second wave" we saw a new upswing in thermal imaging cameras, with the added awareness that these tools could also be an effective tool for access management and workforce control, thanks to software. But the most interesting evolution has been in sensors. Before the pandemic, environmental sensors were relegated to a specialist field. Today, however, they play a major role in verifying the health conditions of social spaces, but not only. Using the example of school management, technology has come to the rescue of those who prefer objective to 'manual' management. Environmental sensors are the key element of a scientific approach to security management.


Today, environmental sensors measure (directly or indirectly through a calculation by difference) CO2, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), PM, THL (temperature, humidity and light). The amount of carbon dioxide in an environment is, of course, directly proportional to the number of people breathing in it. This data is enough to manage an air exchange, limiting it to when it is actually needed. Otherwise, the sensor can activate an automatism when a threshold is exceeded, for example it can command the opening of a window or the activation of recirculation. Such a choice has not only environmental benefits, but also consumption benefits. Keeping a window open all the time to ensure clean air has an impact on gas consumption for heating, because much more gas will be needed to maintain the set temperature.

Volatile organic compounds can be defined as those emissions generated by indoor pollution (paints, detergents, vapours, condensation, etc.). They are suspended and can be potentially harmful. Their behaviour has recently been studied by manufacturers of sanitisers. These instruments, before the pandemic, had no special operating requirements and were largely regulated by simple manual switching on and off. Sanitisers operating with photocatalysis, for example, also work when there are people in the room.


Is there such a thing as the best parameter?

The solution has been to link the intelligent operation of sanitisers to the behaviour of certain particles in airborne suspension. According to some studies, the behaviour of VOCs was largely comparable to that of viruses in the air. The same cannot be said for CO2, because photocatalysis produces it and so the machine would never shut down. The problem with VOCs, however, is that they are not a structural presence in closed environments, and so the risk (however rare) is that of not having a real parameter for operation.


A concrete proposal

So here we are defining an intelligent system, which can be combined with possible instruments for the management and measurement of energy consumption. This system consists of an environmental sensor, monitoring and management software and sanitisation tools, which will be chosen according to the needs and types of space to be made healthy. An industrial warehouse obviously has very different needs from a meeting room, and therefore it will be strategic to assess which type of sanitisation machinery will be most useful. The objective is to unify actions for the management of comfort in the proper sense (lighting, temperature, etc.) with those for the protection of safety. The ecosystem outlined above can then be integrated with thermal imaging cameras to detect temperature and mask presence. These instruments can then be 'processed' to become elements of personnel management, access control and derivatives. This small system can be a valid solution for schools, at a cost that is certainly lower than that required to replace the classic desks with roller desks: one sensor per classroom (CO2 also verifies assembly), a sanitiser and a thermal imaging camera at the entrance to check the student's state of health. A practical case that shows how technology already has solutions to improve our safety without sacrificing freedom and the right to education.


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