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A Partnership to Create New Sensors for a Better Tomorrow
A Partnership to Create New Sensors for a Better Tomorrow

In keeping with our commitment to enable the greatest possible impact of innovations developed at Portland State University, the office of Innovation and Intellectual Property is now working with Dr. Evan Thomas, Assistant Professor and Director of the Sustainable Water, Energy, and Environmental Technologies Laboratory (SWEETLab) at the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science and Stevens Water Monitoring Systems, Inc., a local manufacturer of environmental monitoring systems and equipment.

Dr. Thomas and his team have created SWEETSense, an energy efficient, remotely accessible monitoring system designed specifically for use in technologies deployed by international development and international aid programs in underdeveloped countries around the world. With these new “smart sensors” the SWEETLab at Portland State University can frequently sample, continuously monitor, and remotely collect data from drinking water and sanitation stations, as well as track the use of high-efficiency cook stoves and other devices intended to improve the quality of life for people around the world. The collected data can then be used to provide development and aid agencies information about project strengths and weaknesses, and can, as Dr. Thomas writes in “Proving Sustainability: The International Development Monitoring Initiative,” demonstrate “which technologies and programs are truly successful.”

The new “smart sensors” will also help increase the accountability of agencies receiving funding for use in aid programs. With better records of which initiatives, devices, and programs are successful and which are not, development and aid agencies could improve the ways they allocate financial, material, and human resources, creating the potential to directly affect the lives of billions of people in positive, sustainable ways.

Innovation and Intellectual Property has helped facilitate the implementation of Dr. Thomas’s new “smart-sensor” technology by seeing it through the initial stages of the patenting process and by working with Dr. Thomas to craft partnerships that have taken the sensors out into the public sphere. One such partnership, with Stevens Water Monitoring Systems, has resulted in the implementation of the sensors’ many applications all around the world.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, Mercy Corps is using the sensors in public restrooms with the aim of improving sanitation by tracking the correlation between the use of latrines and hand-washing stations. With the Lemelson Foundation, the SWEETLab monitors several types of high-efficiency cook stoves with sensors that collect data from thermocouples and CO/CO2 emissions. According to Dr. Thomas these high efficiency cook stoves are designed to address health and environmental issues such as upper respiratory disease. With the “smart-sensor” technology incorporated in the stoves, the SWEETLab can monitor whether they are being used, and if changes in emissions occur over time signaling a defective product, information the Lemelson Foundation can use when determining if the cook stoves improve health. And most recently Dr. Thomas began working with the Gates Foundation and WaterAID to monitor a sanitation program in India.

Together Dr. Thomas and Stevens Water Monitoring Systems are changing the way development and aid agencies account for the success and sustainability of their projects. “To me,” Dr. Thomas noted, “sustainability means whether or not these types of projects continue to function the way they said they were going to function for a long period of time—longer than a couple months or years.” It is a long view of one way Portland State University can help those living in underdeveloped parts of the world: a sustainable means of outreach the office of Innovation and Intellectual Property is proud to be a part of and is looking forward to building upon using the tools of intellectual property.

Authored by Shaun McGillis
Posted March 30, 2012