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An insider's guide to fresh air

Palo Alto startup extends 'Internet of Things' to home air quality

Getting some fresh air outside is a given. But some Palo Alto entrepreneurs are offering consumers a way to make sure they are doing that same quality of breathing inside.

Bitfinder Inc., a Palo Alto startup, has created an indoor air-quality monitor to help consumers become aware of their environments. Called "Awair," the smart device helps people track and improve air quality and shows how the indoor environment affects one's health.

At first glance, the device looks like a vintage radio. But the petite wooden box has four sensors that monitor the five most important factors of indoor air quality: temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, dust and volatile organic compounds -- or toxic chemicals that cause skin and respiratory irritation.

Knowledge of air quality is critical, whether at work or at home, because we spend so much time in these environments, said San Baek, head of operations and strategy for Bitfinder, located on Alma Street in north Palo Alto.

"We're making the data-driven indoor environment measurement service," Baek said. "It's really about (a) getting to know your air and (b) doing something with it."

The device uses a mobile application and operates via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, according to the product's website, getawair.com. Installation begins with plugging in the device, downloading the Awair application and setting your preferences, such as an interest in reducing allergic reactions or in improving sleep. After that the device begins to analyze the air.

Once you set your preferences, an LED display on the device provides an air-quality score on a scale from 0 to 100. Zero indicates the poorest of air quality and a score of 100 is excellent, clean air. To get detailed information, you open the app to view the five areas the device monitors. The more dots there are under each category -- on a scale from one to five -- the poorer the air quality, Baek explained. Based on that information, the application provides recommendations for how you can improve your indoor air quality.

For example, if the humidity is low in your den, you can swipe your phone screen to see a tip, such as plugging in a humidifier. Or, if you're feeling sluggish at work and the application is telling you the room you are in is dry, it may suggest getting some fresh outdoor air.

Inspiration for the Awair was born out of personal experience. Bitfinder's founders, Ronald Ro and Kevin Cho, both have children who battle allergies and eczema -- conditions directly affected by both outdoor and indoor environments. They wanted to get to the root of the issue. After seeking treatment that yielded no results, Baek said they figured out that some of the areas their children were going had very bad air quality.

"Knowing this information was critical," Baek said.

The device's goal is to make it easier to determine if a humidifier is needed or if ventilation needs to be adjusted in a certain room.

"All this technology is only useful when it's benefiting people's day-to-day life," Baek said. "Air quality is a huge component."

Baek uses the device himself and knows that when he sleeps with his family at night in a closed room, the carbon dioxide level rises.

His solution: "I got a couple of plants because our house was pretty old," he said, and the plants remove carbon dioxide from the air.

"A lot of the places here are old, and they sometimes omit harmful chemicals from the wall from materials they used 20 or 30 years ago. You've got to do something about it," Baek said. Information "makes a big difference."

The vision for the Awair continues to evolve. Bitfinder is working on integrating the Awair with other devices such as fans, heating and ventilation systems, air conditioning, and air-treatment devices like purifiers and humidifiers, he said.

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This article appeared in print in the Spring Home + Garden Design 2016 publication.

Freelance writer TaLeiza Calloway-Appleton can be reached at tjcalloway2@gmail.com.

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