​​​​I recently had the opportunity to join my colleagues in presenting to a group of nearly 50 European technology reporters at the press day event ADI hosted in Limerick, and it was my pleasure to share some of the exciting things ADI’s instrumentation business is doing in the area of environmental monitoring.
 
While I often joke that ADI’s instrumentation business operates quietly in the background, that’s actually not the case. The truth is that instrumentation is an enabling technology for many, many emerging industries. When you look at our other businesses, from 5G technology to autonomous vehicles, the one thing they have in common is that they depend on our ability to test and measure – in the lab, during prototyping and throughout volume production.
 
The other aspect of ADI’s instrumentation business is that our technology must be better than what we’re measuring, whether that’s mmWave RF chips for 5G base stations, 77-GHz RADAR sensors or high-speed memory used in data centers. In the case of emerging battery technology, for example, our precision test and measurement expertise is a key indicator in determining if a new battery will be rated for an electric vehicle or live its life running a power tool.

​​​Leading the Charge in Environmental Monitoring
When it comes to the science of environmental monitoring, we’ve seen rapid change and increased demand over the past several years based on the growing need to measure air and water quality. 

Take for instance that experts estimate there are more than one billion people around the world​​ who are unable to access clean water, which results in more than three million deaths each year. The old approach to environmental test and measurement often involved the collection of samples that were sent off to a lab, with results delivered days or weeks later. We’ve helped to overcome this inefficiency by developing sensors that can analyze data and present results almost instantly.
 
While speed is imperative, there is an equal need for portability, which ADI is addressing by constantly improving sensor precision and performance while shrinking power budgets and size. Once environmental scientists can easily take their monitoring equipment to a lake, river or ocean, the next thing they often ask is how we can help them install sensors in the field, but without requiring that a scientist or technician physically calibrates the device or replaces batteries every few months. 

This expanding concept of the “lab in a field” is placing even more rigorous demands on us to improve sensor robustness and battery life.
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While our customers expect us to design ever smaller, solid-state, power-efficient sensors, they remain unwilling to compromise on performance. To deliver lab-grade results, the integrity of the data must be beyond question, especially if it is used to inform some action, such as environmental mitigation. Moreover, because remote sensors are left unattended and communicate over wireless networks, we must install security software that is impermeable to hacking or attempts to change or corrupt data.
 
The size of these data sets is only increasing, which is putting a strain on data centers to store so much information in the cloud. ADI and other companies have been working to move as much data collection as possible to the intelligent edge, which is revolutionizing the way we harvest, process and store data and manage bandwidth.
 
If this isn’t complex enough, we are also challenged to make our sensors easy to use. With fewer engineers graduating with hardware skills, we have a responsibility to our customers to make sure our designs are relatively simple so that the end-systems they’re developing for their customers are comparatively easy to operate.
 
Sensors Transform Industry Environmental and Safety Responsiveness

Two examples of sensor technology we shared with media in Limerick exemplify the traits I just laid out: precision performance, low power, small form factor, robustness, security and ease of use.
 
The first is a sensor for testing ballast water in cargo ships. At first, this might seem like an arcane use case, but when you consider that 80 percent of the world’s freight travels by ship you can begin to appreciate the size of the challenge.
 
According to the International Maritime Organization, these ships discharge 10 billion tons of water each year, or enough to fill four million Olympic-size swimming pools. In doing so, more than 7,000 species are transferred through ballast water every hour of every day, leading to the arrival of an invasive species of plant or animal every nine weeks.
 
Our sensors help shipping companies comply with International Maritime Organization regulations governing ballast water management and are used onboard by trained operators who can now quickly and accurately detect the presence of contaminants.
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The second use case is a gas sensor that has been designed into smoke detectors. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, three out of five deaths that occur in fires are the result of improperly functioning smoke alarms. And 25 percent of those deaths come from users disabling the alarm after it delivered too many false alerts. 

Our gas detector is significantly smaller and uses three times less power than anything that came before it. This device can measure multiple wavelengths to verify the incident and significantly reduce false alarms thanks to vastly improved signal processing and electronics integration. These same sensors can also be used to measure air quality in buildings to protect occupants from volatile organic compounds and other potentially harmful agents​.​​​
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Making the World Cleaner, Greener, Safer
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The ability to take more measurements and move from the lab to the field is leading to measurable progress. 

We can see from news headlines that we still have a way to go, but ADI has been at this for more than 50 years and we’ll continue to push forward to instrument more environmental monitoring devices to enable faster, more accurate, and more pervasive data collection. Our commitment to instrumentation can be best summed up with a saying often attributed to management guru Peter Drucker​, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
 
You can watch the complete video of the “Environmental Monitoring” presentation I gave in Limerick here.

​Our final "ADI Press Day in Limerick" post will come from Martin Cotter, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Digital Marketing. Martin rounds out the blog series with a look at how analog innovation is transforming global markets.
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