Low-Cost Air Sensor Product Design Case Study

The Bergin Group, an air quality research team from Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, embarked on an industrial design exploration with the Trig team in the Summer of 2016.  One of The Bergin Group's initiatives is to evaluate and design a series of low-cost air sensors for domestic and international deployment. 

Historically, air sensors have been bulky and expensive, requiring fixed installations with dedicated power, security measures, and highly calibrated yet sensitive instruments. 

The Bergin Group is on the leading edge of verifying the latest low-cost air sensors in development, which could have profound research implications for deploying sensor networks in developing countries that can't afford an expensive measurement infrastructure.


The backpack challenge

The Bergin Group engineering team had approached Trig after configuring an initial electronics package that included multiple air sensor components.  The air sensor would be partitioned internally for two separate sensors to operate independent airflow pathways.  During the course of the design phase, Trig uncovered that there were two use cases for the sensor:

  1. Strapped to the outside of a backpack for mobile outdoor air quality sensing
  2. Resting on a table or flat surface for indoor air quality sensing

In backpack mode, we had to find a stable mechanism to attach to the backpack that would position the enclosure so that it could both get consistent airflow AND prevent rain from getting into the vents.  When in table mode, the enclosure would need to rest with the airflow vents facing outward and not obscured by another object.


Concept refinement

3D CAD for rapid prototype


Scaling up

Having learned valuable lessons from the prototyping phase on the fit and function of various components, the Trig team has helped the Bergin Group source a urethane casting manufacturer to build the initial run of 100 units.  We are excited to see the air sensor get deployed in China in support of the Bergin Group's research in the coming months as they continue to develop sensors at the leading edge of air pollution research.

Ty Hagler

Trig, 510 Meadowmont Village Circle, Chapel Hill, NC, 27517, usa