Portable Gas Detection – A look into the Future

Future Gas Detection

Portable Gas Detector of the Future.

Gas detection is an important subject for many working in the world’s most hazardous industries, and considering how technology has advanced in recent years it is very surprising gas detectors have stayed relatively static in their design and performance.

For example, the following options have been inbuilt within portable devices for a couple of decades:

  • single or multi-gas
  • pumped or diffusive
  • data-logging
  • man-down alarms
  • audio, vibration and visual alarms

So other than price and sensor performance – little has changed and little varies between them all.

Now compare and gas detector of 15 years ago with a mobile telephone of the same period and what to you find. Well while the mobile phone has gone from being just a voice calling and text messaging device, to an essential holder of everything we hold dear in life – the gas detector (which is similar in size, weight and material) is almost completely unchanged.

As Nokia were launching the 3510(I) with the first colour screen and internet connectivity, gas detector manufacturers were launching their revolutionary low cost multi-gas instruments with smaller sensors and sleek designs. Now compare todays phones to the latest gas detectors and what do you see?

Do you get the point? “Will someone produce a gas detector that uses some of the latest technology available in mobile phones please.”

But some of you may be asking – is this really an issue? Well to answer, let’s just consider for a few minutes the what users are looking for in their portable gas detectors.

 What Users are Looking for in their Portable Gas Detectors.

Small Gas Detector of the Future
The majority of users today still want a gas detector with one button – turn on and turn off. Switch the device on at the start of the day and off again at the end. As long as the alarm doesn’t go off, all is good! And the truth is for many this approach is just what is needed. Some however have more complicated needs, undertaking bespoke measurements for multiple gases in numerous locations. Others such as the gas utilities undertake multiple tests in domestic properties where alarms are not required and in-fact, a nuisance. So obviously, all industries have different needs and budgets, so what’s the point?

Well, your mobile phone today has one button for on and off. For many users they only want it to ring if someone needs to contact them and nothing else. Others like to text, take pictures, listen to music, access the web and social media, send and receive emails, shop, view videos, find friends, read books and the news, etc, etc. And even more importantly, while this is all going on, the wise phone user has all their information seamlessly backed-up and stored for future access should it be needed.

Now applying the same principles to portable gas detectors, it would be reasonable to assume a modern gas detector would:

  1. Have one button for on and off.
  2. The ability to have built in applications configurable by the owner to fit their needs.  Not only for alarm settings and hardware set-up, but more importantly allowing the device to have sensors active or not, alarms active or not, sensors visible or hidden etc. (Allowing the user to select various applications such as – confined space measurement, leak tracing, non-alarmed, purging and intermittent sampling applications, to mention a few)
  3. Wireless distribution of live data including; time, date, gas concentrations, alarms status, workplace exposures, calibration, bumptest results and most importantly user and location.
  4. Remote data storage and in a form that can be easily accessed and interrogated in a simple usable format.
  5. Automated report generation for gas test certificates.
  6. Biometric identification of users, linking the device to a trained user.
  7. Voice and text communication. For example, in the event of an alarm, the user can be contacted by a remote monitoring station or control room.
  8. Training applications with simulated gas concentrations and alarms.
  9. Linking of instruments to form mesh guarding systems.
  10. The ability to install additional apps on the device enabling it to perform any other function you can think of.

Pie in the sky you might be saying and yes, possibly. We have to recognise manufacturers have to fit within their budgets and like to control how products are sold and used. But they also need to keep up with an ever i-knowing generation who want phone technology and connectivity in all their products.

 How About the Sensors?

Modern gas detectors are made up of a case containing a battery, circuit board and plugin sensors. The hardware and operating systems are therefore only half the story – the cleaver bit is the sensor technology. The ability to produce small, gas specific, smart, low energy consuming, robust gas sensors is central to the success and quality of any gas detector. Therefore, manufacturers and users need to recognise the investment required to produce these and support those who are working in these areas. The smartest, smallest, most connected, user friendly gas detector will be of little use if its sensors are of poor quality.

What’s Happening Right Now?

Today manufacturers are waking up to the idea of cloud-based technology and the best ways of integrating the latest smart sensors into their instruments.  Many are looking to link their devices using Bluetooth to mobile phones and using apps on these to communicate and store the data. Some are unsure about instrument applications feeling they were too complicated for the end users. But is anyone providing what we expect from a smart mobile device in 2018? Well, continue to follow us and you will see how the future unfolds as we review the latest devices as they come to us for testing. We can be sure manufactures are aware of the need to modernise and link their instruments to the new connected world. How best to do this and understanding what the users want is often the difficulty they have. So, feel free to comment and let us have your thoughts, so we can share these with the makers.

What Does the Future Hold?

The best gas detectors in the future will amalgamate; device hardware, application software and sensor technology in a way more closely akin to the mobile phone industry.  Live data and communication will be smooth and seamless. Data storage and interrogation will be simple and clear. Some instruments will be very basic on/off, and others, slick, application led, smart i-devices. The next generation of gas testers will demand more form their devices and will look to the more intuitive suppliers for help. So please, keep telling us what you think so we can share your great ideas with others and continue following our site to see the future unfold for portable gas detection.

The Editor

Arobase Gas Testing

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