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Air quality project at Edinburgh Napier University

Like so many other things over the last few months, setting up the Environmental Sensor Development Kit (ESDK) at Edinburgh Napier University has been a slow process. This was not because of any direct impact of the pandemic - constructing the kit and configuring a Raspberry Pi is pretty much immune to that type of disruption. It was more to do with contextual factors that meant that other things took more of a priority. For example, the ESDK project is being sponsored by the Computational Sustainability Lab whose refurbishment was put on hold in 2020 and is only now back on the agenda. All of the activity in the Lab's physical space will soon need to be packed up and relocated so that the room can be kitted out properly.

ESDK on top of the GrowCube in the Computational Sustainability Lab

The image above shows the ESDK sitting on top of a GrowCube - a hydroponic container for the cultivation of microgreens. These cubes are being installed in 113 schools across Scotland as part of the Dandelion festival. Another reason that the ESDK project has been taking a bit of a back seat is the Lab's work to add sensors to the GrowCubes to monitor the conditions remotely.

The Lab is only the temporary home for the ESDK though. Eventually, it will be installed in the Lions Gate Garden, an outdoor permaculture environment at the University's Merchiston Campus. The ESDK will join a range of other sensors in the Lions Gate including soil probes and meteorological instruments that will provide an electronic representation of the health of the garden. Power and network connections are now being installed and once a rain-proof canopy has been constructed, the ESDK will be deployed so that it can begin the task of monitoring the effects of the urban surroundings on the planting environment.

All of the garden sensors including the ESDK will feed their data via a local MQTT broker to a database hosted by the University. From there, it will be accessed via a web application that will allow visitors to query and visualise the data in different ways. Following the initial installation, the whole system will be supported and developed through students' project work. This should see contributions by ENU students to the growing ESDK codebase as well as extensions to the hardware configuration. The first project opportunities in this area will be advertised to undergraduate students in the academic year 2022/23.

Lions Gate system architecture

With the work on the Dandelion project easing off, the summer of 2022 will be the time when the Lions Gate installation can be completed. By August, the ESDK should be streaming data to the DesignSpark cloud as well as to the local database and we should be ready for the first project students to start experimenting with environmental monitoring.

I am the director of the Computational Sustainability Lab at Edinburgh Napier University which addresses sustainability challenges through the application of advanced computing techniques. A lot of the Lab's work is focused on sensor-based systems but includes software engineering, model building with machine learning and digital communications.
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