Schools turn to technology to monitor e-cig usage

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ARKANSAS — Schools around the country are beginning to install sensors in bathrooms, locker rooms and stairwells to detect and alert administrators when vaping occurs.

The sensor, Fly Sense 2.5, is installed using a wired school network or through Wi-Fi in various locations where vaping typically takes place. It then looks for chemical compounds found in e-cigarette vapor.

“Once the device is installed, it looks for a vaping signature,” said Derek Peterson, Soter Technologies CEO. “We’ve classified different elements in the air, and through machine learning, we can actually distinguish when we see vape, spray from a can of Lysol, or kids spraying Axe.”

When the vaping signature is detected, the sensor can automatically send a notification to a school administrator. Peterson said it is possible for the organization to set up various types of alerts. Previously, schools could choose to receive alerts via text message or email, but the updated sensor also includes a mobile application that can send in-app push notifications.

It is also possible for the school to schedule when and to whom it wants alerts to be sent, Peterson said. For example, security guards who work Monday through Friday could receive alerts only during their shift, while the principal could request to receive notifications at all times.

The Times Record reports that vaping and the use of various types of e-cigarettes have become a concern for parents and schools in recent years. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 2 million middle and high school students in 2016 had used an e-cigarette in the past month. The CDC also reports the use of these devices could increase the chance of students and young adults who were previously non-smokers to use regular cigarettes or other addictive substances.

The Fly 2.5 sensor is not only used for detecting vaping but learns to distinguish changes in noise levels, taking a timestamp of what a location is supposed to sound like at any time and alert administrators of any possible anomalies that could indicate issues as bullying or fighting, Peterson said.

While the sensors are placed in bathrooms and locker rooms, privacy is a top concern for Soter Technologies, which specializes in using technology to report certain behaviors and protect the identity of individuals.

“There are no cameras and no microphones,” Peterson said. “None of that exists in our devices, so there is nothing being recorded.”

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