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Case Study

What’s in the air you breathe? Here’s how to find out

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Do you struggle with fatigue at work? An hour into meetings, do you notice heads nodding and hands reaching for the biscuits? If the task is actually fascinating but you still can’t concentrate – then maybe there’s something in the air.

Amid urban pollution and rising temperatures, the issue of air quality is rapidly gaining attention. Three variables are commonly used to build a picture of healthy or unhealthy air conditions:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Carbon dioxide, emitted through breathing, cooking, candles, etc.
  • VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) from household products

Some of these factors are easier for humans to perceive than others. For example, we can detect temperature and humidity levels fairly easily: you’ll know if you’re feeling too hot or too cold, or the air feels too close.

But even when the temperature feels comfortable, a slightly overheated room can leave you feeling sluggish and struggling to concentrate. Dry air is also hard to notice – but it may be the reason your eyes and throat are feeling irritated and your allergies become worse.

More humid air keeps dust levels down, which is generally good for allergies and irritation. But it also encourages mould, dust mites and bacteria to thrive, and these all present other respiratory challenges. The range of indoor humidity levels that is considered healthy for humans is actually fairly narrow, at 30-60%. Meanwhile, definining a healthy temperature involves more factors, such as age, existing health conditions, clothing – and indeed, humidity.

Fortunately, while the air around us is invisible, or at least it should be, it is in fact quite simple to measure. We’ve created a kit you can use to run tests yourself – and learn about IoT at the same time.

The OKdo Air Quality Kit is designed for those with no coding experience, but who want to learn about Single Board Computing (SBC) and the Internet of Things (IoT) through building a data set that’s instantly useful. The kit helps you understand the air quality in a room immediately and over time.

The kit contains all the tools you need to get started. Connect the Wio Link single board computer to sensors that track the temperature, humidity, TVOC (total VOCs) and CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) levels in the internal environment of your choice. Then send the sensor data to the free OKdo Cloud (powered by All Things Talk), where you can store it, analyse it and even choose to share and combine it with data from other kits around the world.

Over time, you’ll be able to identify patterns that can help you manage your indoor health. If the TVOC level spikes after you’ve cleaned, it could be worth changing your cleaning products. If carbon dioxide increases during dinner parties then you might consider avoiding candles, ventilating the kitchen during cooking, or simply opening a window.

On the technology side, the next obvious step is automation. Connect an alarm, and if your kit records any levels slipping out of the healthy range it could trigger an alert and enable you to take action immediately. It takes some of the worry out of having to be vigilant yourself.

There are also clear benefits to employers in providing optimised conditions for human productivity: after all, no one wants a workforce that is half-asleep. Once the benefits of good air quality are measured they could easily become part of employee demands as well. When work perks already include gym memberships and fruit baskets, why shouldn’t they include a healthy breathing environment?

What’s in the air around you? If you live near a busy road, you may prefer not to know. But as we increasingly understand the impacts on our health, the truth is that tracking the quality of the air we breathe could actually do us some good.

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