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Four ways IoT can monitor and enhance our environment

From the remote wilderness to smart cities, IoT is enabling environmental monitoring that helps protect and enhance the environment - water conditions, air emissions and noise just to name a few.

Bolstered by a slew of low-energy, long-life sensors, the number of connected devices globally is poised to reach 20.4 billion by 2020, estimates Gartner in their Forecast: Internet of Things — Endpoints and Associated Services, Worldwide, 2016 report. Devices are deployed and connected for a variety of purposes – here are just some of the surprising applications for maintaining, protecting and improving conditions in specific environments – and our planet as a whole. 

Oil rig at night

Sounding the alarm

Decibel and sound pressure level (SPL) meters are often used for measuring ambient sounds, white noise and noise pollution in settings including some typically loud environments, such as construction sites, roadways and airports, as well as in more sensitive locations, such as hospitals and hotels.  Sometimes however, it’s not the sound volume that matters so much, but the kind of noise being detected and what action it can trigger. 

Activists at US-based not-for-profit organisation Rainforest Connection have set out to ensure illegal logging can be heard. They recycle old mobile phones to be solar-powered so they can be hidden within the forest to listen for the sounds of chainsaws and large vehicles in prohibited areas. These eavesdropping devices are being deployed in protected forests in Peru, Brazil and Indonesia to alert authorities in near real time – helping environmental authorities address one of the primary causes of climate change. 

This ‘Bio-acoustic monitoring’ has research potential as well, with the ability to create a rich and detailed record of daily life in a dense ecosystem. 

Something in the air 

In our concrete jungles, administrators in cities are beginning to use IoT sensors and networks, connecting existing infrastructure, to monitor the specific services they provide, such as street lighting and waste management. A straightforward deployment can ensure energy-efficient lighting while sensors on garbage bins can ensure a community’s waste is removed more efficiently, helping conserve fuel, electricity and public money. At the same time, the smart bins contribute to a dataset of waste patterns which allows administrators to gain insights into how public spaces are being used. 

Smart cities are also monitoring more general conditions such as overall air quality and dust for the wellbeing of citizens. In South Australia, for example, the City of Adelaide is to roll out a pilot project that collects a variety of street level data, including dust, noise, temperature and air quality from its IoT deployment, with the data stored in a central Telstra cloud hosted platform. The data will then be made available to the public, empowering them to “create innovative solutions” that “improve the experience” of the city. 

Indoors, the air we breathe is a key focus for Industrial IoT applications which, for example, often include the ability to set up threshold alerts for safety and compliance, such as ensuring air quality remains acceptable for employees and customers in factories, buildings and work vehicles. 

Efficient assets

The benefits of environmental monitoring in industrial settings also include enhanced operational efficiency, improved asset management and the collection of data for better decision making - it’s easy to see how the application of IoT is a natural fit with production lines and logistics chains.

In Telstra’s report SMARTer2030: The Australian opportunity for ICT enabled emission reductions, it’s estimated that smart logistics has the potential to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions by up to 12 million tonnes per year by 2030, through safe and efficient transport.

Monitoring technologies are also assisting farmers ascertain the exact amount of water, fertiliser, or other input that is needed for specific crops at any point in time. By 2030, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Telstra estimate that 650 billion litres of water could be saved per year, with yields increasing by 700 kilograms/ha of produce per year, according to the SMARTer2030 report. 

This is being driven primarily through energy savings and the more efficient use of water and fertilisers. 

Crystal clear benefits

Agriculture is a key sector for IoT innovation, so much so that there have also been many research projects involving crops and farming, including the use of sensors to track stock movement, health and behaviour. 

Detection and measurement of pollutants in our air or water has obvious importance for the health of individuals and communities, as well as the safety, quality and integrity of industrial processes.

Pollutants in water can be detected by ‘water bots’, which are submerged devices with sensors to monitor temperature and bacteria levels as well as sewage, chemical leaks and oil spills.  For airborne pollutants, sensors can be used to detect chemicals, smoke, paint fumes and emissions for both toxicity and their potential climate impact. 

Man in field on laptop

Shelf preservation

However, some environments may seem surprisingly non-industrial, however, yet be filled with assets that need to be located, managed and protected – let’s consider your local public library.

Librarians are old hands at asset management, with decades of card systems and barcode use. Now, they are exploring IoT-enabled services, such as the ‘Book-O-Mat’ kiosk that Oregon’s Hillsboro Public Library established in its town centre. IoT can also be used to connect a library collection to way-finding apps, helping readers navigate shelves to a particular title.

 Environmental monitoring also plays a role in libraries, helping protect rare and fragile collections against the perils of humidity and ensure temperature and other conditions are optimal for the preservation of precious pages. Similarly, environmental monitoring is critical for museums and art galleries and here again, IoT-connected systems bring added efficiencies and assurances for the management of treasured collections.

The Internet of Bees 

We’re used to seeing collars on pets, leg bands on birds, ear tags on cattle. What about a sensor on a bee? 

Australia’s CSIRO can lay claim to an unusual world first ‘swarm sensing’ research program, where researchers have (painstakingly) fitted tiny sensors to thousands of bees in Tasmania.

By monitoring the movements of the bees and using data modelling, researchers are joining global efforts to halt the decline of the world’s bee population – a serious environmental problem. 

The research relies on the fact that bees are predictable creatures. Changes to their movements can be quite distinct and in immediate reaction to a significant change in their environment. In this fascinating IoT example, bee behaviour can be tracked and used as an indicator, effectively using the bees themselves as an important – and IoT connected – environmental monitor.

Help grow, optimise and transform environmental management with IoT connectivity.

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