In a world of rapid technological development, the key concepts of device accuracy and precision – the cornerstones of instrumentation within the disciplines of science and engineering – have never been more relevant.
In layman terms, ‘accuracy’ is how close a measurement is to the true value and ‘precision’ is the variability of repeated measurements. As such, a good measurement system should be both ‘accurate’ and ‘precise’. However, with huge advances in environmental instrumentation form and function, plus factoring in the exponential growth of IoT sensors and devices (estimates put the number of devices connecting to the internet at a whopping 50Bn by 2020), there are other key considerations for environmental practitioners to be mindful of when deciding upon the appropriate instrumentation.
Careful consideration of the project objectives is needed to make sure that the system chosen has the correct resolution. The ‘correct’ resolution does not necessarily mean selecting the most precise and accurate equipment available; it means specifying equipment that is most suited for the requirements. For example, data that is collected at a resolution order of magnitude too great will likely be very expensive but with no additional benefit in the dataset gathered. On the flip side, if the resolution is poor, the data is likely to be much cheaper to obtain but the very variations you are trying to capture may not even be visible!
It is very easy (and tempting!) to obtain an ‘off the shelf’ solution, install it and press ‘play’. This methodology doesn’t often succeed and can lead to much bigger issues down the line. Consideration is needed about what data you will need, when and why, and most importantly, how the raw data will be turned into useful, meaningful information for you and your client. Raw data is just that; a jumble of numbers that means nothing, even to the most experienced of specialists! As such, practitioners should always invest in a solution that provides the right knowledge output, in the right format rather than data to populate a spreadsheet.
Let’s face it, measuring things in the environment is not always done in the most salubrious of locations! Measuring from highly contaminated sites, after all, is one of the perks of the job! In the world of environmental technology, it is very common for instruments to be deployed in harsh operating environments. It is therefore critical that the selected instrumentation is field-ready and robust enough to survive. Equipment that is high-precision and accurate tends to be highly sensitive and not suited to environments outside the laboratory, never mind a landfill in the middle of winter! A balance between robustness and performance is essential.
To avoid making these mistakes, it is essential that those supplying equipment have both deep market understanding and insight as well as the knowledge and expertise to design and specify the correct system for the specific problem. Poor specification of instrumentation can otherwise stifle innovation and stymie uptake of new technology which has the potential to improve delivery to customers.
However, those who are willing to trust technology, and more importantly, trust the specialists who are providing it, soon see the tremendous advantages hidden in the data that environmental technology provides.
This episode of the AmbiBlog is brought to you by Richard Lavery, our UK General Manager. Richard Lavery has over twelve years environmental consultancy experience, nine of those dedicated specifically to instrumentation. He has worked on a wide variety of projects, from installing environmental and geotechnical instrumentation on the London Underground through to monitoring methane on Shale Gas sites. He is passionate about technological advances that help us to better understand the natural world.
If you have an upcoming project where you think data might be useful but are not sure where to get it or the right questions to ask, please give Richard a shout. He’ll be glad to help 🙂