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Building Sensor Technology Removes Health Unknowns, Adds Savings

Modular sensor technology is offering deeper insights into the health of built environments. The data pulled from these devices is especially valuable in public buildings and schools.

From noble roots trying to measure the severity of tremors in Parkinson’s patients, the founders of a Virginia-based technology company are changing the way the built environment is monitored.

Attune, a now 10-year-old Internet of Things company, uses plug-and-play components to monitor critical systems and the overall health of interior environments. Special attention has been paid to schools and other public facilities.

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Serene Almomen
The modular system uses pre-built components that can be networked with existing infrastructure and expanded as users identify new use cases. Today, the Attune platform processes more than a billion sensor data samples on a daily basis, CEO Serene Almomen told Industry Insider — California.

“It's almost like Lego pieces, so when we're trying to create a new real-time exhibiting data solution, we just mix and match those pre-built Lego pieces,” she said.

The technology has been valuable in areas that suffer from chronically poor air quality, like the Central Valley — an area regularly plagued by smog and smoke from wildfires.

“We are telling kids to stay and teachers to stay indoors when outdoor [air quality] is bad, but research itself shows sometimes indoors is worse than it is outdoors,” she said.

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Darren Fort
For the Monterey County Office of Education (MCOE), Attune’s sensor technology was used to answer some of the looming questions posed by the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, explained Senior Director of Maintenance Darren Fort.

The ability to see real-time air quality statistics for classrooms helped to gauge the overall safety for teachers and students, measuring volatile organic compounds and other hazards, such as carbon monoxide levels, in six special-education buildings across several campuses.

“Managing that at the time was brand new for everybody, and especially us. And we were trying to figure out a way of how we [could] have students in the classroom, how we [could] have employees safely back in the building,” Fort said.

Through a collaborative effort with the MCOE IT department, sensors were integrated into the classroom environment, he added.

“Obviously, we worked with our technology department, and it was pretty seamless,” Fort explained. “We have a bunch of firewalls and everything up, so it was important that we did work with them to allow them to have a port that they could access the information that they're pulling from the sensors … .”

The capabilities of the technology extend beyond just measuring the overall health of a given space. Almomen said it also offers insights into the status and efficiency of critical systems and their underlying operational costs.

These types of costs have traditionally been measured only after the expenses mount in the form of a monthly bill. Almomen hopes sensor technology becomes ubiquitous to the built environment, comparing going without environmental data to “driving a car without a dashboard.”

“We are seeing states that are mandating, or are reviewing bills right now, during the legislative sessions in Maryland, New York and Illinois, to monitor indoor air quality specifically in all public infrastructure,” she said. “I think it's coming … and hopefully [those] will be funded mandates when these bills pass.”
Eyragon is the Managing Editor for Industry Insider — California. He previously served as the Daily News Editor for Government Technology. He lives in Sacramento, Calif.