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The What, How and Why of CO2 Monitoring

Ensuring Proper Ventilation with the CO2 Traffic Light

While I was looking into CO2 monitoring indoors and how to build CO2 devices, I followed the signs pointing to Guido Burger in southwestern Germany. I’ve come to regard Guido as the CO2 Tech Guru. He has been working on all aspects of CO2 devices to monitor indoor air quality. A device can give feedback on improving room ventilation by opening doors and windows. Last year, Guido wrote the cover story, CO2 Traffic Light, for Make: Germany and since then he’s continued improving the device.

CO2 Traffic Light

Why is CO2 monitoring important? The CDC recently updated its understanding of the transmission of COVID-19 to focus on spread through aerosols, which are exhaled by people and can be circulated in the air. Larger droplets will fall to the ground, which is why the CDC guidelines emphasized social distancing and masks and avoiding contact. However, these aerosols are much smaller and stay airborne much longer. When people gather indoors, proper ventilation is needed to move fresh air into the room and disperse the aerosols.

Monitoring CO2 indoors can be used as an indicator or marker for proper air ventilation. CO2 devices provide information that allows you to take actions to be safe and reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19. While you can buy commercial CO2 devices, you can build them and deploy them to measure the accumulation of CO2 in a confined space. CO2 monitoring devices can help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and help us learn how to maintain good ventilation.

In this latest article as part of our Project CO2 series, I asked Guido to give us a deep dive into explaining how these devices work, the differences among CO2 sensors, and building DIY devices that use these sensors to collect data. He has also done testing of the devices and shows us some of the airflow patterns in classrooms. He walks us through the build of a device, its hardware and software as well as its different options.

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Guido describes himself as a sailor, maker and engineer, and he says that the maker and engineer are “always in conflict” with maker wanting results quickly and the engineer wanting to think about the best possible result. He is the developer of the Octopus board. He began researching CO2 monitoring before COVID-19 hit last year because he saw that building a device was a really good classroom project for students to learn about the Internet of Things, as it integrates physical hardware with software tools and produces data. Please consider building a device and working with students to help them build them for schools.

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty