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Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology


Students from our EPSRC CDT in Sensor Technologies for a Healthy and Sustainable Future are developing open sensor technologies to help our staff and students return to working in the department safely.

For the team challenge aspect of their doctoral training course in our EPSRC Sensor CDT, this year’s cohort are using their knowledge of sensors and data science to help our department’s researchers return to working in the lab.

OccuCamb, a team of 12 students, have already developed an algorithm to allocate researchers to our available lab space in a manner compliant with social distancing. They’re now working on a system of doorway mounted thermal sensors to count the occupancy of each room in the department, to provide a live map accessible to department members.

Their occupancy algorithm has already been a huge help in the initial stages of allowing our researchers to return to working in the laboratories. To manage occupancy and reduce the risk of transmission, returning researchers have been split into two teams, with each team operating an alternating week-on, week-off work pattern.

OccuCamb’s algorithm takes into account constraints such as maximum building occupancy, maximum lab occupancy, and priority level of each researcher (for example, researchers working on covid-19 related projects are given highest priority), and returns the list of researchers which should return.

This has been invaluable over the last few weeks in ensuring as many of our researchers could return to laboratory work as possible, while ensuring minimal occupancy of the building and that social distancing could be maintained in all of our working areas.

As more of our researchers seek to return to working in the department, OccuCamb is developing a real-time method for monitoring lab occupancy, that will enable our researchers to work more flexibly and efficiently than in a week-on week-off schedule, while still ensuring social distancing.

“We have been tasked with a challenging assignment, to develop a complete system with a single sensor that can manage people traffic while being completely anonymous, and at the same time be affordable and energy efficient,” says Mohammed Alawami, a member of the Occupancy team and OccuCamb project representative. “Thanks to the hard work and effort the team have put in, we were able to develop a working system. We hope that this technology will mature to make the impact we envision.”

Their room occupancy team aims to create door-based sensors to detect people moving through lab doorways, allowing them the determine the real-time occupancy of each room. They are using thermal array sensors with a microcontroller to record the heat signatures of people moving through a doorway, which is then transmitted over a Local Area Network for image processing. By using a low-resolution thermal array, OccuCamb can avoid privacy concerns associated with cameras, but still obtain accurate detection of lab occupancy.

We look forward to seeing the results of this exciting project in the next few weeks. You can find all of the updates on the project and hear directly from the students involved through their blog on the OccuCamb website or watch a short video summary of the project below.

The OccuCamb team (taken before covid-19 safety measures were introduced).

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