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This Tiny Device Will Alert You to Unhealthy Air Conditions

Plume Labs wants to tackle air pollution with big data.

The problem of air pollution is a particularly vexing one because there’s not a whole lot the individual can do about it besides not going outside (a solution many have turned to). You can do your part by trying to reduce your carbon footprint, but you can’t control everyone else, and in any event, the problem itself isn’t going to get much better until years from now in even the best case scenario.

Plume Labs wants to be part of that best case scenario. Back at CES this year, they showed off Flow, a small device that you can carry with you to track air pollution in your surrounding area. Flow can be clipped to bags and backpacks and draws in air from its surroundings, measuring fine PM2.5 particles, larger PM10 particles, nitrogen dioxide, and household chemicals. All of that data is delivered to an app that can help users get a sense of how healthy the air they’re breathing is.

Of course, the question is how much this specific information can really help — after all, smog is easy to see and you know something’s up when the house smells funky. What Flow can do well is alert users to sudden changes, letting them know they need to either move to another spot or break out the air pollution breathing masks. Besides the app, an LED array on the device itself can give users instant alerts, so it can have an immediate impact.

That’s not nothing, but Plume has a lot more promise than that — users just need to be willing to be part of a greater whole. Flow will also be pumping that data back to Plume Labs, which can then see air pollution data sourced from Flow users all around the globe. That can help them create real-time maps of air pollution zones in individual cities, allowing users to plan days out accordingly.

Plume Labs tested that idea with a trial run in London. The company worked with environmental scientists at Imperial College London to use a few Flow prototypes to make an air pollution map of London. Over three months they covered 20 percent of central London, creating exactly the kind of real-time air quality map the company has had in mind. The tests helped prove the accuracy of the device and its usefulness — if they’re able to move enough units, that is.

Speaking of which, Plume Labs is ready to do just that. Plume Labs made the Flow available for preorder earlier this week at a special preorder price of $140 (normally it’ll be $200). That’s pretty expensive either way, but if you’re really excited about the prospect of crowdsourced air quality alerts to help entire cities stay healthier, it could be a good buy. With the number of early deaths caused by air pollution numbering in the hundreds of thousands, it’s certainly a noble goal.