Alps Alpine Develops Ambient Air Sensor Module Useful For COVID-19 Prevention

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Alps Alpine’s new ambient air sensor module monitors the surrounding environment with high-accuracy sensing of carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature, humidity, and other parameters.

Alps Alpine Co. Ltd. has developed an Ambient Air Sensor Module to perform high-accuracy sensing of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, temperature, and humidity in the immediate surroundings. The module could be used in places like restaurants and entertainment facilities to monitor indoor ventilation, temperature, and humidity as part of COVID-19 prevention measures. Other parameters such as PM2.5, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and alcohol can also be detected. Alps Alpine will proceed with market research for the deployment of the module for diverse applications. This includes energy-saving functionality in major appliances to help combat global warming and safe automotive features to stopping drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. Mass production is scheduled to begin in fiscal 2022.

Background Of The Development

Despite progress has been made in the development of vaccines, there is still no end in sight for the global COVID-19 pandemic. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has suggested three common characteristics among places where clusters of infections emerge – they are closed spaces with poor ventilation; crowded space with many people; and people engage in conversation or speech in close proximity (within arm’s reach). Various strategies have been introduced to prevent infections. For example, businesses operating spaces where people gather in close quarters, such as restaurants and entertainment facilities, have limited entry, shortened visiting hours, implemented hand sanitizing and temperature taking, and ensure ventilation.

In regard to ventilation, ensuring constant ventilation with windows or doors open at all times can affect the temperature and humidity inside, making it difficult to maintain a pleasant environment. The other option is routine ventilation, with priority placed on the regulation of temperature and humidity. The problem here, though, is it is hard to tell whether the level of ventilation is actually effective in preventing virus transmission. This has heightened the need for high-accuracy CO2 sensors – for determining optimal ventilation timing – and high-accuracy temperature and humidity sensors – to help restore comfortable conditions after the disruption caused by ventilation.

Alps Alpine has advantages in the sensor technology domain and has developed sensors to measure changes of a wide range of parameters besides CO2, temperature and humidity. This includes air pressure, load, and electric current. These sensors have been integrated into diverse products, such as automobiles, consumer electronics, smartphones, and industrial equipment.

Outline Of The Development

The Ambient Air Sensor Module was developed through Alps Alphine’s partnership with Sensirion Holding AG. The module detects ambient CO2 concentrations and temperature and humidity levels with high accuracy and will help to prevent COVID-19 transmission while maintaining a comfortable indoor environment.

Fig. 1. Alps Alpine Develops Ambient Air Sensor Module Useful for COVID-19 Prevention
Fig. 1. Alps Alpine Develops Ambient Air Sensor Module Useful for COVID-19 Prevention. Photo credit: Alps Alphine.

Specifically examining the CO2 sensor, many existing products employ non-dispersive infrared (NDIR) spectroscopy. The CO2 concentration is determined from the change in the amount of infrared light absorbed by CO2 molecules between an IR emitter and receiver. The large size of sensors is an issue given that detection accuracy corresponds to the distance the infrared light has to travel. Another concern with the NDIR method is the potential for the axis of the emitted infrared light to shift during end-product de-sign or transportation, leading to detection errors.

The CO2 sensor inside the Ambient Air Sensor Module employs photoacoustic spectroscopy (PAS) (see Fig.3). Here, the CO2 concentration is ascertained from the sound of CO2 molecules captured by a microphone as they vibrate on contact with emitted infrared light.

Fig. 2. Size comparison: Sensirion NDIR and PAS sensors. Photo credit: Alps Alphine.

As detection accuracy is not dependent on the distance traveled by the infrared light, Alps Alpine managed to maintain high accuracy while realising a compact sensor measuring 10.1 mm × 10.1 mm × 6.5mm. Additionally, there is no longer a need to place a detector opposite the IR emitter, as is the case with an NDIR sensor, external impacts will not have an effect, thus enabling stable performance.

Expertise in module creation built up through many years of sensor development was also utilised to offer customers the option to customise on their requirements of including VOC and alcohol sensors, in addition to the CO2 and temperature and humidity sensors. This lessens the burden for customers in end-product design and supports diverse needs for additional functions depending on the application.

Fig. 3. The CO2 sensor inside the Ambient Air Sensor Module employs photoacoustic spectroscopy (PAS). Photo credit: Alps Alphine.

Outlook

Besides monitoring ventilation in places like restaurants and entertainment facilities, Alps Alphine foresees effective use in a wide range of applications, such as energy-saving functionality in major appliances, and safe automotive features. Market research will be conducted both in Japan and globally.

 

Principal Applications

  • Products related to the ambient air environment
  • Major appliances
  • Household equipment

Specifications

Fig. 4. Specifications. Photo credit: Alps Alphine.

-End-

 

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