Environmental Pressure Sensing

Funding: Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher

Finn Lough, Co. Fermanagh

Rated as one of the top ten places in Ireland to stay in 2017 Finn Lough, in the Donegal edge of the Fermanagh Lakelands, is not your typical retreat. A night under the stars takes on a whole new meaning with nothing but transparent walls between you and the night sky while you are tucked up in the luxury of a four-poster bed. The luxury Bubble Domes feature 180o transparent walls, are climate controlled and configured with a main room, a spacious shower room and entrance hall with each Dome sited within its own private site.

PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED

Michael Beare came up with the innovative concept of Bubble Dome accommodation and from the outset the objective was to offer a premium experience. He soon found out that it was necessary to take product development into his own hands in order to realise the accommodation features and reliability required.  A technical requirement for each Bubble Dome is the need to keep sufficient air pressure within the dome and to know when this drops. For example, if a guest inadvertently leaves a door open the Dome can partially deflate. While safety mechanisms are in place to prevent the dome collapsing the user experience is impaired if the Dome wall deflates below its transparency optimum. Michael approached the Wireless Sensor Applied Research Technology Gateway (WiSAR) at LYIT to collaborate in the development of remote pressure monitoring and alert system which could be retrofitted into each Dome. WiSAR applied their combined experience in sensor applications and the Internet of Things to develop a solution to the problem.

WiSAR SOLUTION

The Bubble Dome’s shape is maintained by ensuring that the pressure inside the dome is greater than the atmospheric pressure, thus creating a positive pressure inside the dome. This positive pressure ensures that the dome holds its shape, the pressure is created by an external air pump which is continuously replenishing air into the dome.  The aim of the system is to maintain optimum pressure levels at all times by adjusting the pump speed in real time and in the event of a pressure drop below a defined threshold an alarm to be raised.

A low cost single board computer (SBC) was deployed in the Dome which is used to monitor wireless enabled sensors in and around the Dome.  These included wireless pressure sensors inside the Dome and outside, a temperature sensor, humidity sensor and a novel method to measure the expansion of the dome was researched and implemented.  By comparing the pressure measurement inside the dome to that outside the pressure differential is determined.  If the pressure differential goes above or below a pre-set threshold the motor is adjusted automatically.  Software was developed to implement these sensing functions on the SBU and a prototype system.  A full Bubble Dome was set-up within the WiSAR Lab which enabled the team to determine pump speed and dehumidifier thresholds and experiment with other sensors.

There are several advantages of deploying an SBU within the Dome.  Besides from providing real-time autonomous monitoring and control of pressure and humidity it provides connectivity to the cloud.  This enables all sensor data to be sent to a database which can then be used by the Company to support the guest experience and to analyse data trends. WiSAR developed a dashboard which extracts the data from the database and presents the environmental status of each Bubble Dome to the user.  Historical data is available to give insight into the relationship between weather conditions and the dome environment, energy usage, the tolerance performance of the sensors, cross correlation between sensor measurements and the impact of guest behaviour on the dome conditions.

The project was directly funded by the company and through the use of Innovation Vouchers, an Ireland wide funding scheme provided by InvestNI and Enterprise Ireland to encourage SMEs to embark upon Research and Innovation.  Michael’s view is that this is the first step in a journey for Finn Lough to put the Internet of Things at the heart of the guest experience, he commented that, “Research and Innovation can be quite intimating for any small company but at the same time innovation is essential to differentiate a company’s product or service offering.  We found that working with WiSAR give us a gentle introduction into R&D and a practical partner to solve our challenges and opportunities.  We are planning further collaboration in the Internet of Things which will build on what we have developed together.

 

Impact & Benefits

A practical low cost solution was delivered to the company the solve the initial challenge, namely to monitor and control the pressure within the accommodation bubble.  In addition, by implementing a cloud based solution the client now has the capacity to collect and analyse data remotely from each unit fitted with the system.  Additional sensors could be added to the environment and monitored through the system installed.