What has the ATTRACT seed funding enabled you to do so far?
In first place, it has enabled a fruitful collaboration between a research institute, Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), and an industrial company Depuración de Aguas del Mediterráneo (DAM). Up to now, we have been able to develop an electronic nose (e-nose) specifically tuned for quantifying odour intensity in a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in a similar way as humans will perceive it. The e-nose has been integrated into a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which surveys the WWTP for sample collection and real-time analysis. This hardware/software system and the associated calibration and operation methodology are now being considered for a European patent.
What challenges have you faced so far?
The main challenge has been the development of a miniaturized and lightweight e-nose that satisfies the payload constraints of the UAV and is able to communicate all the measured data in real-time to a ground station. Designing a robust experimental campaign for sample collection is also challenging, because it must take into account all the variability associated to the WWTP operating conditions, weather, etc. Finally, we also had to minimize the impact of the UAV downwash into the e-nose readings.
Where does your ATTRACT journey go from here?
Throughout the project we have learnt important lessons regarding the quantification of odours with an electronic device, the important aspects to consider when designing such e-nose and the challenging conditions imposed by an outdoor realistic application to a measuring instrument. In this last phase of the project, we will validate the system through several on-site experimental campaigns. The UAV will be able to produce 3D odour maps of the WWTP, enabling the plant operator to take mitigation actions in the odour hotspots. If the results are positive, the system will be tested in a longer time period and in different WWTPs, to verify its robustness.
Sum up in two sentences the advantages of the ATTRACT Programme over other research funding schemes.
The ATTRACT program facilitates the collaboration between industrial and research-oriented partners, yielding highly innovative solutions with high practical applicability. The incentive of a 2nd phase with enhanced funding fosters a sane competition among the different ATTRACT teams, increasing the effort put by the teams to deliver a high-quality solution.