NEW GADGET PRECISELY GAUGES INDOOR AIR POLLUTION AND FINDS PLACES WITH CLEAN AIR NEARBY
Author: Paul Bischoff
Beijing-based startup Origins Technology today announced the launch of its latest product, the Laser Egg. The stylish air quality meter offers homes and small businesses an accurate way to monitor air pollution, and claims to be the best in its price range. The RMB 379 (US$62) device is battery powered and can easily be picked up with one hand. A simple display on the front shows the current air quality.
Origins partnered with one of China’s most popular outdoor air quality monitoring apps for the launch of Laser Egg, in addition to its own app. The partnership will allow users of China Air Quality Index to view the pollution in their own home alongside the outdoor measurements in their cities.
Furthermore, users of both apps will have access to a map function. Businesses that install a Laser Egg can upload their PM2.5 measurement in real time to the apps so users can look around them on the map for cafes, restaurants, and other places with clean air. The initiative is just getting off the ground, but co-founder Liam Bates says businesses have been extremely receptive to the idea.
“For those that have invested already in air purifiers, they’ll spend a few hundred kuai extra and are able to tell everybody, show off that they have invested, and they do care about the air their customers are breathing. It’s really a no brainer for a lot of places,” he says.
Other businesses that haven’t installed air purifiers say they aren’t convinced customers will be able to tell the difference. “But once you can put it on a screen and say right now the air in here is 15 [PM2.5] and the air outside is 300 [PM2.5], then that completely changes everything,” says Bates.
Many air purifiers have built-in meters that use an infrared beam combined with a sensor to measure the opacity of the air. This solution is cheap, perhaps less than US$10, but is also slow and inaccurate, Bates says.
In between these two extremes is a method called light scattering. As the particles are pulled in by a fan, they pass in front of a laser. The laser refracts onto a photo sensor. This allows the device to instantly work out the size and number of particles in the air. These types of devices typically cost anywhere from US$500 to US$10,000, but Origins claims to use the same technology in Laser Egg at a fracion of the cost.
“This technology is kind of out of date in the rest of the world because there’s a lack of demand for low cost systems,” says Bates. “It hasn’t advanced that much until recently. Other people’s work brought down the overall cost of light scattering technology.”
Users can beam air quality info straight to their smartphones via the Laser Egg app. The standard PM2.5 measurement (amount of particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers) is set as the default metric, but those interested in other stats can view the mass, size, and number of particles. For data nerds, all the information collected can be placed in a spreadsheet and sent to the user’s email account.
Bates argues that measuring the number of particles is useful, but what those particles are made of is also an important factor. For instance, Beijing occasionally has sandstorms, which are less of a threat to health than heavy metals from factory smokestacks. Shanghai, however, doesn’t have to worry about sand in the air. “10 particles of a heavy metal is different than 10 particles of sand,” he explains. To account for this, Laser Egg will automatically calibrate according to its location, giving the user a clearer picture of the not-so-clear air.
“Laser Egg connects to wifi, knows where it is, and can calibrate accordingly,” Bates says. “It takes an already accurate number via light scattering with the laser and downloads the right calibration.” […]
[…]The biggest challenge ahead for Origins is making people aware of the difference between the varying standards of air quality measurement. Not everyone is willing to have a sit-down discussion regarding the nuances of light scattering technology. Bates says, “I think word of mouth is going to be a really big factor here, because once you have one of these in your hands, the difference is obvious.”