What Is an Environmental Sensor?
The term "environmental sensor" can encompass a great many concepts. Some of the most common environmental sensors are those that measure temperature, though it can also include air quality, moisture, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and even seismic sensors. Combining multiple of these elements can provide a system capable of monitoring the general "environment" of an area, whether that be in a home, an industrial workplace, or an outdoor area.
Environmental sensors are sometimes associated with measurements in soil, air, water, and other resources for contamination and pollutants for environmental monitoring. Recently, however, environmental sensors have found use in many applications that are relatively new in the industry. Smart home monitoring, wearables, and other such applications make use of environmental sensors and often help interpret the data into meaningful information for comfortable living conditions, exercise routines, safe conditions for industrial situations, and more.
More environmental sensors are introduced year-over-year. According to a study conducted by Mordor Intelligence, the environmental sensors market is currently valued at over $1 billion USD per year and expected to grow.
Here's a look at some of the environmental sensors available today and what features they include.
Omron Environmental Sensors: 2JCIE Series
Omron's 2JCIE series of environmental sensors have been released over the last year. Included in the series are options for freestanding, USB, and PCB-style sensors, suitable for different applications.
The 2JCIE series. Image used courtesy of Omron
The 2JCIE-BL01 is a free-standing environmental sensor, shown below, detects indoor or outdoor environments and transmits the data via Bluetooth Low Energy to nearby phones or the cloud.
The 2JCIE-BLO1 environment sensor. Image used courtesy of Omron
The module has sensors to monitor for seven parameters:
- Barometric pressure
- Seismic activity
It also contains flash memory connected to a Bluetooth SoC wireless module. The unit is small, light-weight, battery operated and self-contained. Weighing 16 g (~.56 oz) with dimensions of 46 x 39 x 15 mm (~1.8 x 1.5 x 0.6 inches), it's suitable for remote or mobile environmental sensing.
The graphic below illustrates the use of 2JCIE-BL01 in an indoor living area, integrated with smart systems. It may be integrated into a system that activates automated window coverings when a certain amount of light is detected or one that activates an air conditioning unit upon detecting a certain temperature.
The 2JCIE-BL01 connects with phones and the cloud. Image from 2JCIE-BL01 datasheet.
Used outdoors, as shown below, the 2JCIE-BL01 can stand sentry to strollers, pool areas, storage sheds, as well as outdoor pet enclosures. Constantly monitoring the environment, notifications of changing conditions can provide a timely alert to prevent unsafe situations.
The 2JCIE-BL01 outdoors. Image used courtesy of Omron.
The 2JCIE-BL01-P1 is a PCB version of this sensor, intended for development and prototyping.
The most recent addition to the 2JCIE family is the BU01, a USB-based version of the 2JCIE-BL01 released this October. The sensor has built-in memory and may connect to a network via this USB interface or via Bluetooth (the BTLE link has a range of about 10m).
The 2JCIE-BU01 USB environmental sensor. Image used courtesy of Digi-Key
This version of the 2JCIE is even smaller than its predecessor at 14.9x29.1x7.0mm. Unlike its predecessor, it does not offer UV index information as an output, but does add VOC (volatile organic compound) monitoring.
In terms of remote monitoring, the 2JCIE-BU01 is capable of three months of data logging when communication is established every five minutes.
Bosch BMExxx Series
Included in Bosch's environmental sensors portfolio is the BMExxx series, including two "integrated environmental unit" sensors, specifically designed for mobile applications and wearables.
The first, the BME680, measures the following:
- Barometric pressure
- Relative humidity
The BME680 sensor. Image used courtesy of Bosch Sensortec
This integrated sensor is intended for use in various applications such as smart homes, navigation, and wearables (such as fitness monitoring and various biometrics like skin moisture detection).
Its slightly smaller cousin (2.5x2.5x0.93 mm3 compared to the BME680's 3x3x0.95 mm3) is the BME280, which only has the temperature, relative humidity, and pressure sensors. This sensor has comparable applications, but with an emphasis on wearables over smart home/IoT devices.
Sensirion Environmental Sensors
Sensirion is another company that offers various environmental sensors, including those for particulate matter, humidity, temperature, and more. Sensor modules designed for specific situations include the SCD30 sensor module, which is referred to as an "air quality" sensor. In this case, "air quality" is measured by CO2, humidity, and temperature sensing.
The SCD30 air quality sensor module. Image used courtesy of Sensirion.
This uses NDIR (nondispersive infrared) technology to detect gases based on their sensing wavelengths.
Sensirion gas sensors utilize the "MOXSens® Technology", which is a proprietary term describing the use of a metal oxide ("MOx") film layer of nanoparticles.
Image used courtesy of Sensirion.
Sensirion SGP multi-pixel gas sensors, like many other of their sensors, utilizes CMOSens® Technology, another proprietary term that refers to a specific method of combining sensors with CMOS silicon chips for signal processing.
What environmental sensors have you used in your job? What specs are most important for those applications? Which sensors have you found to be the most useful? Let us know in the comments below.