Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Project Overview

I'm currently a rising Junior studying Mechanical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. I am participating in a 10-week SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) Project in which I will build a prototype "Home Hazard Weather Station" in collaboration with Dr. Julian Bunn (Caltech's Center for Advanced Computing Research) and Professor Mani Chandy (Caltech's Computer Science Department). 

Environmental hazard detection (such as detection of fires, earthquakes, floods, and radiation leaks) is increasingly aided by computer sensors that transmit data to SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) Cloud computing systems, which allow for monitoring of conditions over large areas. However, precise sensors are expensive and very few in number, generally found only at facilities specifically interested in monitoring certain conditions. These sensors are incapable of producing detailed maps of conditions over large areas due to their small number, and therefore cannot serve as accurate and useful hazard detectors for large communities. We aim to produce detailed data for various environmental parameters over a large area by using a dense array of cheap sensors that relay information to Cloud resources in real-time. Studies have shown that by using a large number of relatively inaccurate sensors, coupled with a few precise sensors, we can greatly increase the accuracy of our sensor data over a given area and thus provide users with a reliable hazard detection system. Creative analysis of multiple types of sensor data will also allow us to monitor events otherwise not detectable with a single type of sensor. The finished product will be valuable not only to scientists who wish to monitor environmental conditions over time, but also to first-responders and product users in the case of an emergency.

This project attempts to provide accurate, real-time data of various environmental parameters over a large area by using a number of relatively cheap sensors that serve as a “Hazard Weather Station”. This data will be made available to scientists, first responders, and the average user in order to create an efficient hazard response system.

This project builds off of the CSN (Community Seismic Network) project, which uses a dense array of inexpensive accelerometers to produce a “shake map” that monitors the seismic activity in and around Pasadena. These accelerometers are hosted in volunteers’ homes or offices, and, in addition to sending seismic data to the Cloud, allows the user to view seismic activity in their home or office via a computer application.

The goal is to construct a sensor hub (and associated software) with a variety of inexpensive sensors that can monitor other environmental parameters such as barometric pressure, radiation levels, temperature, air-quality, etc. In addition, the sensor hub will include a microphone, motion detector, and light sensor. This wide variety of sensors enable us to creatively fuse data from different sensors to detect events such as an approaching thunderstorm (finding a characteristic flash of lightning followed by rolling thunder), or a fire (changes in air quality coupled with decreased humidity). The sensors will be attached to the Arduino platform and transmit data at regular intervals to a Cloud based data storage infrastructure. The interval of transmission can be altered and prioritized for parameters that suddenly change in order to more accurately track anomalous environmental conditions. Data will be also displayed to users via a computer program and/or Android application.

By the end of the SURF research period, the prototype “Hazard Weather Station” will be able to relay information to a central Cloud computing system and work with a computer and/or Android application that lets users monitor changes in environmental parameters at their homes and offices. 


  1. This is really cool stuff. Im really glad that you have brainstormed a project quite similar to one of my projects, and are increasing your knowledge of engineering and Arduino technology through this project.

    However, what is the practicality of your specific project? That massive sensor pack looks a bit bulky for everyone to have in their homes, and I dont see a practical application for a Geiger counter in a home.

    I think I'll add this blog to my feed to keep track with updates!

  2. Thank you for your comments. Unfortunately, I likely won't be updating this blog anymore as this was a summer research program I participated in for one summer.

    We are currently in the very very early prototyping phase of this project. To answer your question: We hope that this sensor device will be useful to a wide variety of people:
    Researchers and Scientists: These people will require large amounts of data and being able to generate a map with lots of different types of sensors data will be helpful to them
    Companies dealing with gas/mining/radiation/etc: Companies that deal with dangerous and/or flammable gases or radiation detection will be able to use these devices as well.
    Statewide monitoring: This kind of ties in with companies, but governors may want to monitor the gases in their cities caused by fracking or other processes that may affect large amounts of people in their city.
    Home owners: Temperature sensors, motion detection, light detection can all make life easier for home owners by helping with monitoring, intruder alert, automatic power switches etc.

    Again, we understand this is bulky at this stage, but in the future, we hope that users will be able to customize this device as well and tailor it to their specific needs.