Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine 23-2 - 32

ideal candidates for bioinspired sensor designs.
Specifically, we believe that
bioinspired sensors can
provide exciting new opportunities for improving
environmental monitoring. Bioinspired designs
are based on processes,
materials and devices inspired by biological
evolution. The environmental monitoring systems
of the future should also
Fig. 2. Block diagram of environmental monitoring sensor fusion and reporting, adapted from [4].
sustainably coexist with biological systems and are
environmental monitoring are being added with architec- therefore ideally biodegradable and biocompatible. Indeed,
tures similar to other dynamic, spatially distributed systems well-known conventional technologies which collect energy,
such as smart cities and smart ports [5]. The technical re- sense and compute all have existing bioinspired equivalents:
quirements for sensing, communications, computing and edible solar cells as technological surrogates for green leaves,
storage between smart environments are largely based on high-resolution cameras can be replaced with eyes, and brains
their predefined objectives. The main objectives of smart en- can be viewed as nothing more than biodegradable computers
vironmental monitoring are to detect, forecast and assess the [6]. Because bioinspired designs are driven by evolution, they
impacts of environmental change on human society. Fortu- are both robust and highly tuned to a wide range of environnately, Nature has evolved a host of biological environmental mental conditions. As shown in Table 1, these conditions can
sensing specialists.
be grouped into three types of environments: soil, water and
air, based on their fundamental physical differences.
Why We Should Look to Bioinspired
Upon performing a comparison between the relative costs
Sensor Designs
and impacts of soil, water and air, it becomes clear that water
The Earth's natural environment includes a wide variation of is currently the most important type of environment to montemperatures, ranging from minus 89.2 °C to 70 °C and pres- itor. This is because water is fundamental to all ecological
sures from 8.87 m H2O to 10,994 m H2O. Biological organisms processes and has the highest relative cost when monitoring
face the additional challenge of energy harvesting and stor- is considered. As a result of this, we focus our attention on
age, often with limited mobility. Because of these challenges, the challenges and opportunities related to bioinspired unEarth's organisms have evolved and developed advanced, derwater sensing as they relate to environmental monitoring.
robust sensing capabilities. Their ability to evolve and thrive One successful example is based on fish-like artificial lateral
under a wide range of harsh environments makes them lines, which can be used to autonomously classify complex

Table 1 - Comparison of environmental monitoring types, based on physical conditions.
Type

Soil

Water

Air

32	

Relative Cost
to Remediate

Parameters

Level of Global
Standardization

Impacts

$$$

Soil chemistry, water and gas
content, carbon, biodiversity
and physical properties

Medium: most countries
have regulations in place,
international commitments
exist

Wood and food production,
transportation, carbon storage
and biodiversity

$$$$

Physiochemical water quality,
nutrients, pollutants and
biodiversity, river discharge

High: nearly all countries
have regulations, thresholds
are known and international
commitments are wellestablished

Water supply, food and energy
production, shipping and
transportation, cooling and
heating, carbon storage and
biodiversity

$$

Particulates, gasses and
chemical compounds, air
circulation

Medium: some countries
have regulations, thresholds
for some parameters follow
international commitments

Combustion for energy
and food production,
transportation, carbon storage,
human and animal health

IEEE Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine	

April 2020



Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine 23-2

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