There’s a lot of talk in the media these days about air quality. But who really has a clue how polluted the air is in their own home or work place? Now Luxembourg based company, Airboxlab have brought their connected indoor air quality monitor Foobot to the UK.
What Is It?
The makers describe Foobot as…
“…the most advanced data processing smart monitor in the market, helping you take control of your indoor air quality, either by working with other home automation devices or simply by giving you detailed knowledge of something which is effectively invisible. By scanning your environment day and night and learning from your habits, Foobot will provide you warnings and actionable advice to keep your air in the home fresh and pollution free.”
We setup Foobot in the AV Room at the Automated Home. The install is a 5 minute job using the iOS or Android app. The white cylindrical sensor sits passively in your room, measuring and logging the changing quality of your air over time. The machine takes 6 days to settle and calibrate itself when newly installed or moved to another room.
What Does It Measure?
The World Health Organisation says air pollution was estimated to cause 3 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012.
Foobot measures some of the worst culprates – VOCs, PM2.5s, CO2 as well as temperature and humidity. Results are logged to the app every 5 minutes.
- PM2.5s – Particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres, like dust, pollen and pet dander
- VOCs – Volatile organic compounds, toxic gases like formaldehyde and ammonia. This sensor is also sensitive to carbon monoxide, a potentially dangerous gas.
- Carbon dioxide – Exhaled naturally from humans. Not itself harmful, but indicative of poor circulation. This is measured via data from other sensors.
- Humidity – Low humidity can cause irritation. Excessive humidity let mould and dust mites grow.
- Temperature – Mostly for comfort, but still important to optimise
Poor air quality can have side effects from fatigue and headaches to aggravating allergies and asthma.
When Foobots LEDs are blue all is well (LED’s can be dimmed, scheduled to be on at certain times only, or switched off completely).
Foobot takes readings from the 3 pollution categories and combines them to give you an air quality score. The lower the number the better.
Once they rise above a threshold the colour of the lights changes to orange then it’s time to open the app and investigate. The apps background colour mirrors the LEDs on the hardware too.
PM2.5s seem to be particularly dangerous and although perhaps associated mostly with Diesel cars, these tiny particulates can also come from those fancy candles in a jar my Mrs loves as well as wood burning stoves and cooking.
Volatile organic compounds can come from things like the glue used in your furniture or cleaning products. Using aerosols can all set the alarm bells ringing too.
We’ve regularly seen very high CO2 levels although It seems the Foobot uses an algorithm to calculate CO2 levels rather than having a specific sensor for it on board.
Outside air quality is also reported in the app using 3rd party data from Breezometer.com – in our case however this was from a town about 250 miles away.
We’re not huge fans of the current app design. It’s pretty enough, but seems a little ‘form over function’. Parts of it are low contrast and hard to read, even on a big iPhone Plus.
Foobot often sends us messages about pollution ‘events’ asking us to tag what we were doing.
Many of these happen when we’re out of the house so it’s impossible to track down the cause.
Once peeling an orange in the room was enough to set the system off.
Foobot now integrates with a variety of other smart home products…
Foobot can also work closely with other smart home devices with a connected thermostat such as Google Nest to control your home’s temperature or can communicate directly with Amazon Echo. When any pollutants exceed healthy levels, Foobot will relay this information allowing Alexa to talk about the problem to you via voice and suggest possible solutions. Foobot can essentially be an active part of the smart home ecosystem helping trigger the ventilation, filtration, purification system or appliances. With the help of IFTTT, Foobot can also connect to 120+ home appliances, including HIVE, the connected thermostat from British Gas.
Although there’s currently no way to directly export your data from the app, a couple of clicks on IFTTT turns on the recipe to automatically record your Foobot data into a Google spreadsheet. You can see some of the details here.
Foobot is an interesting piece of tech that can provide a real insight into the air quality in your home. Just like with Energy Monitors though, this is just the first step. Once you’re armed with the data then it’s up to you to make the changes. That could be a simple as opening a window for a few minutes or following some of the 49 tips and tricks Foobot provide in this ebook. There’s plenty of additional reading available from Foobots Good Air Resources Center too.
Hopefully the price can fall as this sector gets more popular and more units ship. We’d like to see a desktop browser interface to Foobot and an improved UI on the app too. We’ve already seen several app updates in the few weeks that we’ve had the monitor though, so I’m sure improvements will continue.