ChemiSense developing wristworn air quality sensor for people with asthma

By Aditi Pai

ChemiSense appBerkeley, California-based ChemiSense has developed a wristworn wearable air quality monitor that helps people detect chemicals and pollutants in the air around them, according to a report from MIT Technology Review.

The ChemiSense wearable will help people will asthma identify places where the air is more polluted, which will in turn help them identify triggers and avoid certain places.

The wearable device will identify carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds, and ozone. The data gathered from the wearable device will be sent to a connected app. The company plans to use air quality data added to the app to crowdsource heat maps of air quality.

"Air pollution is more than just something that clouds your vision on a sunny day," founder and CMO Will Hubbard said in a presentation. "In fact, the World Health Organization just labeled air pollution as a class 1 carcinogen, in the same ranks as asbestos and cigarette smoke. And so most people don't even appreciate the fact that this leads to millions of premature deaths every year, which in turn leads to the reality that billions each year are spent on issues directly related to air quality."

To measure air pollution now, cities use large sensors called municipal air quality monitors, which cost between $70,000 and $150,000, according to Hubbard. 

The company's product has been in the works for two years and as of March the company planned to sell it for $150. Hubbard says they have developed breakthrough technology, called chemiresistors, to sense pollutants while keeping costs low.

ChemiSense first plans to target younger people with asthma, which the company estimates is a population of 2.49 million children.

"Our product adds a lot of value when children are trying to learn to avoid their triggers," Hubbard explains. "And second, the parents of these children are emotionally invested in preventing their attacks. Something our market research shown has greatly affected their willingness to pay."

Eventually the company wants to expand into other industries outside of healthcare including mining, oil and gas, defense, agriculture, and research labs.

In July, researchers at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology announced that they had developed a smartphone-connected tool that can sense dust levels, also developed to test air pollution. When tested, the technology showed a good initial performance, but a paper describing the research explained that future iterations of the tool will offer increased sensitivity so that the device can detect even lower concentrations of dust.

similar dust-sensing system was developed in 2012. Doctoral students from the University of California San Diego developed an app in 2012 that connected to pollution sensing wearable devices. The group used to tool to conduct a study in which 16 people who used different methods of transport but all had a 20 minute daily commute measured pollution while traveling. The study found that the participants’ measurements varied significantly from those provided by official regional pollution monitoring stations.

In January 2013, Withings announced that its connected scale, called the Withings Body Analyzer measures air quality as well as heart rate and weight. At the time, the company said that CO2 can build up in confined spaces like bedrooms, leading to poor air quality that can negatively affect health, so having access to air quality readings can be part of an overall health strategy.