Using Ubidots software, the University bolsters academic integrity through sensor technology to battle COVID-19 spread.
2020 was a challenging year for every organisation, as we adjusted to new norms that were previously unanticipated. COVID-19 posed a major threat to education, where students adapted to online learning initiatives. However, the Polytechnic of the University of Alicante (UA) wanted to overcome these obstacles in an efficient and future-proof manner by purifying and disinfecting the classroom air to certify that it is free COVID.
The University of Alicante is a public education institution on the Mediterranean coast in Alicante, Spain. The university was established in 1979, inheriting the legacy of the University of Orihuela, which existed for two centuries until 1808.
Hindered Classroom Learning
University learning is centered around the classroom, and COVID was stopping this in its tracks. Aerosols, particles suspended in the air and through which coronavirus spreads, are a great danger in closed places without ventilation. Professor Javier Ferrández, IoT Project leader, explains from 1,000 parts per million (ppm) of CO2, he considers that "you are already breathing the air that someone else expires".
This is a challenge that the university sought to rectify as soon as they realized learning would be obstructed by the spread of COVID.
Professor Javier outlines the reasoning behind creating a solid solution to keep their students and staff safe; “The health crisis has made it necessary to review important aspects as the healthiness of the air in teaching spaces. Since aerosols transmit viruses via air, proper ventilation of laboratories, study areas, and auditoriums are very important.”
CO2 Sensors and Software Powering 60+ Classrooms in UA
The University realized they needed to develop safe spaces that prevent viruses and create comfortable environments. Researchers designed an action plan, which involved an automation objective in the room ventilation systems.
The researchers from the Higher Polytechnic School (EPS) of the University of Alicante (UA) and the innovation group UCIE ARS-INNOVATIO of the UA coordinated the deployment of a solution based on the monitoring of the levels of CO2, temperature, humidity and particles, and the control of indicator lights and HEPA filters. The team used an easy-to-install Ubidots solution for phases of optimization and automation of enclosed spaces.
The system involves a dashboard where you can check classroom conditions in real-time and the history, degree of humidity, outside temperature, wind, and direction.
The team that pulled all of these tools together involves researchers from computing; Virgilio Gilart, Javier Ferrández from Ars Innovatio, and Joaquín López-Davó, who is an Urban Planning expert in air conditioning.
Having worked with UA before on agricultural programs, Ubidots platform enabled the team to quickly develop and roll out their task to prevent further contagions. The low-code enablement platform allowed the University to plug in the devices to launch their solution. They could form interactive dashboards and user-friendly tools to offset air purification problems in real-time. This approach empowered them to carry out a large-scope project in a matter of months, which is difficult to do given the pandemic environment.
“From the ARS-INNOVATIO group, in research and innovation and as a teacher in the preparation of teaching materials,” Javier goes on to say, “I think that the Ubidots platform has characteristics of accessibility, simplicity and potential that make it very suitable to be used both in enterprises and in courses to future engineers.”
Combining IoT with Air Purifiers For A Safer Learning Experience
This project contains three phases, with the first phase already being implemented in the University. The plans were first drawn up and developed with the Ubidots platform in mind, with the first phase consisting of purifying the air.
This solution is installed from an embedded control system at the local level, reporting to the Ubidots platform through dashboard panels for monitoring, event generation and statistical analysis.
Depending on the classroom air’s particle levels, the system emits a green, orange or red light. If the light is green, the amount of CO2 is adequate. Orange shows it rises to high levels of danger and red because it has already passed 1,000 ppm. If needs be, the teacher can stop the class, vacate it and ventilate. It will no longer be necessary for phase two because the intelligent system will circulate the air before the light reaches red.
Affordable Costs For All
The project results are two-fold. They enable students to get back to University safely, and other educational and organizational centres can easily roll it out where large groups of people attend, at a relatively low cost.
At the Higher Polytechnic School of the University of Alicante, they have "anticipated the demands", according to its director, Andrés Montoyo. They have been developing the air purifying system for a couple of months now and implemented it in 60 classrooms. The Ministry of Education recently reported sending 8,000 purifiers to schools, but some in the province have already been interested in this UA system. "The idea is to be able to transfer the innovation to schools, administrations and companies because the cost is affordable," he adds.
With the deployment in the first EPS laboratories, the importance of measuring CO2 levels and the indicative light signal was made clear. This allowed certain groups of students to reorganize themselves to eliminate risks by verifying that the recorded levels were approaching the established limits.
“Highly recommended for projects, proofs of concept and to convey the capabilities of IoT platforms to students. From years ago with Ubidots, my experience is excellent both in terms of benefits and in the service and attention of the staff,” says Javier while working with Ubidots.
These solutions are beneficial for universities and those in academia, but with time and development, it is clear that they can also take off in market spheres. IoT initiatives can be further honed and fine-tuned in line with the organizational situations, making them flexible and adaptable to the current environments. Anyone who knows how to apply these digital enabling technologies has an opportunity to both make improvements and turn their designs into a business model.
Ubidots looks forward to the following two phases with UA through further education and global collaboration. The next phase involves developing purifiers that filter the CO2, and if it contains virus particles, it cleans them. It not only performs this function with COVID but with the flu virus and allergy particles so that even if the pandemic passes, "we want to keep this system healthy", Montoyo advances.
The ability to provide flexible platforms and dashboards that allow organizations to cultivate their processes benefits everyone, from getting students back into classrooms to spreading awareness about IoT and engaging every citizen. UA showed exemplary skills in building out their customizable platform despite a global pandemic and are continuing to grow their reach in 2021.