Athens International Airport turns to IoT for environmental monitoring
Athens Airport turns to IoT for environmental monitoring

Athens International Airport turns to IoT for environmental monitoring

At Athens Airport, two IoT tech companies, Ex Machina and Libelium, have teamed up to help airport execs keep an eye on pollutant levels and the location of aircraft. 

Last year, the number of passengers travelling in and out of Athens International Airport (AIA) grew by more than 10 percent, surpassing 20 million for the first time.

More passengers, of course, means more planes taking off and landing – and the resulting environmental impact is something that AIA executives say they take very seriously. Earlier this year, the airport achieved ‘carbon neutral’ status in the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme run by industry body, the Airports Council International (ACI). That makes it the first airport in Greece to win that accreditation, to add to the accolade of being its busiest.

Opportunity for innovation

AIA says its commitment to environmental protection goes hand in hand with innovation and, in particular, with IoT technologies. Last year, the airport partnered with Ex Machina (EXM), a Greek company specializing in IoT, in order to explore how it might be used to enrich environmental monitoring, analysis and reporting. As part of this project, technology from sensor specialist Libelium was also deployed, including the company’s Waspmote sensors and its Meshlium IoT gateways.

The aim of the project, meanwhile, was to tackle two specific challenges: first, the need to monitor air quality beyond the airport perimeter fence; and second, the need to pinpoint the location of aircraft on the airfield.

In both cases, Libelium’s Waspmote devices use LoRa communications for low-power, low-range, real-time sensor data transmission and device control/orchestration. Meanwhile, GPRS is used for secure device management, over the air (OTA) firmware upgrades, configuration of firmware parameters and the bulk upload of sensor data as back-up.

IoT set-up at Athens International Airport (Credit: Libelium)

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Air quality monitoring

The first challenge involved the monitoring and analysis of concentrations of air pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter. Here, EXM focused on the need for an inexpensive, highly portable air pollution monitoring device, to complement AIA’s existing air quality monitoring network.

The solution is based on Libelium’s Waspmote Plug and Sense! Sensor Platform, and is comprised of standard hardware assembly with EXM’s custom firmware. Each sensor node is equipped with probes for temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, ozone and particulate matter.

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Aircraft location

The second challenge was to detect aircraft location during take off in a non-intrusive way. To address this challenge, Ex Machina decided to utilize acoustic localization techniques, in what might be the world’s first implementation of noise sensors for this particular purpose. The company deployed a range of sound/noise metering nodes of Libelium Plug and Sense! to monitor noise levels on the airfield in real time, thus achieving airplane acoustic localization based on real-time analytics of the data produced by the noise sensors.

This analysis takes place in the EXM IoT back end, where it is correlated with other information, such as that relating to aircraft types, flights and airlines. Through the combined analysis of the acquired data, the location of aircraft can be identified and reported to the airport’s environmental department for further statistical analysis.

Libelium noise sensors installed on the airfield at AIA (Credit: Libelium)

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Pilot project

The project was led by Ex Machina CEO Manolis Nikiforakis, who explains the choice of Libelium as a partner: “Fast time to market with minimum hardware-related overhead was an important requirement,” he says. “As this is a pilot project and our focus is on the IoT back-end software analytics, we also required flexibility in order to assemble sensor hardware exactly as needed,” he adds.

Further to this successful pilot, Athens International Airport is now examining other possible use cases with Ex Machina as it evolves towards ‘Airport 3.0’. The already deployed IoT infrastructure, then, looks set to be extended and reused in other applications.

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