Capturing the Wind

At the corner of Fifth and Spring Streets in Tech Square, attached to a light pole, is a small sensor you’ve likely never noticed. It’s constantly monitoring environmental conditions in the area—temperature, air pressure, and humidity—and collecting and storing data. By the end of the year, a new environmental sensing device with a suite of measuring instruments will join it.

“This one will be a little more flashy because the interior portion will spin with the wind, so it may catch a few more eyes,” explained Noah Posner, research scientist with the Center for Spatial Planning Analytics and Visualization and the IMAGINE Lab, who is part of the team that designed and built the open-source sensor device.

The new, more feature-rich sensor will gather data on wind speed and direction, light, and possibly even sound. It will be integrated into an existing network of 24 sensors across campus called the Georgia Tech Climate Network. The goal of the network, established by the Urban Climate Lab, is to “identify the location of hot spots, measure the impact of ongoing development on micro-climatic conditions, and assess how the use of vegetation and cool materials around campus can moderate warming trends,” according to the lab’s website.

While the existing sensors run on coin cell batteries, which researchers change manually, the new sensor is solar-powered. It collects data in real-time and periodically transmits the data using a long range, low power wireless platform called LoRa.

"The primary intention of this project is to provide an open platform of spatially distributed environmental sensors," said Matthew Swarts, project team member and senior research faculty in the College of Design. "This allows students and faculty to more easily explore and test novel algorithms for sensing human activity at the urban scale."

The 8-inch-wide carousel-shaped sensor is made of PETG, a tough, UV-resistant plastic commonly used to make food containers. Using the plastic, researchers can easily and inexpensively fabricate the sensor enclosure in small quantities. They’ll deploy the first sensor by the end of December, and 19 more by next spring.

This research is part of the IPaT Smart & Connected Communities Data Pilot Grant program. The grants provide funding for one semester to further data-centric, interdisciplinary research in the area of Smart & Connected Communities.

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  • Noah Posner and the sensor device. (2017)

  • Sensor map at Georgia Tech

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Institute for People and Technology