Developing innovations to monitor air pollution in homes

Shot of two adorable little boys having fun with their father at home

While the harmful effects of outdoor air quality are well known, less is understood about the impacts of pollution in homes. Innovation can illuminate this.

Air pollution is the world’s largest environmental health threat. In the UK alone it is responsible for around 40,000 early deaths and costs billions of pounds annually in health and care services.

Action to reduce the health impacts of air pollution tends to focus on outdoor sources, notably emissions from vehicles, however, indoor levels of some air pollutants are often far higher. Particulate matter (PM), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), and sulphur dioxide (SO2) are all present in domestic environments and can be detrimental to health.

The huge development in home working resulting from the pandemic has significantly increased our exposure to pollutants in our domestic environments. To fully comprehend the potential impact we need to better understand the make-up of the air in our homes, and the effective actions we can take to safeguard ourselves and our families.

Clean Air Strategic Priorities Fund

The government has invested £42.5 million in a programme of high-quality, multidisciplinary, research and innovation exploring the health impacts of air quality. As part of this Strategic Priorities Fund programme, a competition was launched by Innovate UK to fund a series of pilots aimed at bringing forward new monitoring technologies focused on the domestic environment.

The vision is for the resultant solutions not only to raise awareness of the potential impacts of the pollution in the home, but also to providing timely and appropriate information so that householders can make effective choices to protect themselves and their families.

Innovation pilots

5 businesses were funded initially to conduct feasibility studies, and of these, 3 were further funded to produce, test, and optimise prototypes ready to commercialise.

Measure, inform, nudge

This project was led by arbnco in collaboration with Mitsubishi Electric, Energy Sysems Catapult, University of Strathclyde, Modulous and SNRG.

The project has developed an interactive solution that allows households to ‘see’ common pollutants within their home and receive alerts when pollutants exceed a set threshold or level. The solution consists of sensors, capable of monitoring a range of common household pollutants, and a smart phone app.

Through the app households can view pollutant levels, receive alerts when pollution events occur or the air becomes stale, as well as collect rewards for improving or maintaining air quality and completing challenges designed to promote health, fresh air in our homes.

Video credit: arbnco
On-screen captions and an autogenerated transcript are available on YouTube.

Smarter home indoor air quality monitoring system

Applied Nanodetectors has developed an ultrasensitive home-based indoor air quality monitoring system that can detect adverse levels of pollution, identify the pollution sources, and provide actionable suggestions to help people improve air quality.

Many commercial air quality monitors lack accuracy and miss rapid pollution spikes related to everyday household activities, such as cleaning and cooking. This innovation utilises accurate sensors and high data acquisition, to give insights into the air you breathe at home. It uses multiple sensors to measure carbon dioxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, temperature, and humidity.

A dedicated mobile application lets the user access real-time and historical measurements, and an online web dashboard gives complete data reviews and reports. The mobile application uses unique augmented reality visualisations to alert users and empower them to act to improve their comfort and safeguard their health.

Artificial intelligence prediction models are used to identify pollution spikes found in households. The monitoring system uses machine learning techniques to analyse the sensor data to predict an increase in pollution levels accurately, alert the user and identify the potential cause.

Video credit: Applied Nanodetectors
On-screen captions and an autogenerated transcript are available on YouTube.

Nooku

Nooku, developed by Filament PD, is a cost-effective, human centred air quality system that engages with each member of the family via a smartphone or on device display, helping them to improve air quality within their home. Nooku’s modular design enables multiple lower cost ‘base’ devices to be placed within different rooms throughout the home, building up a daily picture of air quality.

A more capable and portable module, with touch screen display, can be moved between base sensors, providing broader pollutant monitoring and actionable feedback when and where it’s needed. To engage even the youngest family members a pair of animal ears snaps on to the top of Nooku, transforming the device into a fun, interactive and educational character.

Video credit: Nooku
On-screen captions and an autogenerated transcript are available on YouTube.

Entering the market

These products are now moving toward commercialisation with the aim of highlighting air pollution in the home and advising on the best course of actions to reduce it. The Clean Air programme will continue to support research and innovation until 2025.

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Top image:  Credit: gradyreese, E+ via Getty Images

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