Many customers buying air quality monitors and connected purifiers for their homes suffer from allergies. But focus on the quality of our home environments is quickly moving beyond those with medical needs. In short: we're all becoming "air aware."
That's the phrase coined by Ronald B. Ro, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Awair. It was his daughter's eczema and his co-founder Kevin Leung's two sons' asthma that pushed the two to look at indoor air quality.
"That's when it all started. We got together to see what we could do," Ro tells us. "At that point I was at Cisco’s Smart Buildings group, I kinda had an idea that every indoor space will be connected but what’s next after they are all connected? There was a chance to get more data into these spaces."
The result is a series of sensing products that monitor temperature, humidity, CO2, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and PM2.5 (dust) in homes and businesses. We're testing the flagship $199 Awair monitor which gives you an air quality score as well as customised tips based on your preferences.
But in the US, you can also get the nifty Glow which doubles up as a smart plug to control devices like purifiers and humidifiers that can actually act on the data Awair is serving up. (It tracks all the same stuff, just without the PM2.5 as it will no doubt be plugged in low-ish to the floor.)
Acting on air
Later in 2018 the company will be announcing partnerships with these companies, but it looks like it has no plans to close the loop itself with purifying or ventilating hardware.
"If consumers can buy a product with Awair intelligence, be able to control humidities and particulate levels, you can buy this packaged product with trusted brands whilst giving them benefits," he says.
"You can think of it as Sonos for the environment. We are trying to be the brain behind everything in indoor spaces in terms of health and wellness. We know there are a great number of products that have been doing things in humidifying, purifying, ventilating and controlling the spaces. Our goal is to be that brain and give them the ability to be controlled based on data."
Awair is also pretty open when it comes to working with the bigger smart home ecosystems – right now it works with Nest, IFTTT and Amazon Alexa. If you have an Echo or Alexa device, you can ask "Alexa, how is my room?" or "Alexa, how was my sleeping environment last night?" If you have Glow, you can also do more basic smart home controls like "Alexa, turn on my humidifier in the bedroom."
Making the invisible visible
Design is another big win here in our opinion. Not only do we love the simple, chic aesthetics of the walnut case of the main Awair model – plus the candy coloured nursery options – the LED matrix interface, which gives you an at-a-glance score, makes the smart home simple where others complicate it.
"We are also in the business of visualising data," says Ro. "To use the cliche, we are making the invisible visible. Air quality is something that is not visible in nature so how do we make it so that we can understand it easily? That’s what we try to approach in any feature we release.
"Kevin and I have a very strong desire of bringing good design – not just aesthetics, the user experience overall, the interface – we knew going in that we would love to build products that are design and experience focused. Our first hire was a designer out of IDEO."
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of air quality, we mentioned allergies and asthma but Ro is noticing trends around what people want in different parts of the world that may point to the future of connected indoor environments.
"Different regions across the world have specific interest areas – for example, when it comes to ventilation, CO2 is a good indication to base your judgement on – when to ventilate, when to circulate the air. Across the board in the US and UK, consumers are aware of that.
"When it comes to PM2.5, dust, it's areas like Asia, especially in China and Korea, where the fine dust issue is a nationwide issue. But we’ve been seeing a lot of interest coming out of the UK and Europe, around PM2.5 especially from our business clients asking about those measurements."
With a global focus on air quality, technology like Awair is going to become much more prevalent in our daily lives. Bringing sensors into the home – and connecting them with the new smart home ecosystems – can have positive effects on our lives. And this is only the beginning.