I wanted to introduce to you the air pollution personal exposure monitoring device. It’s by PlumeLabs and it’s called Flow. I got it for £119. I got it shipped out here to Singapore and I’m going to conduct a fun set of exercises around air pollution mapping in Singapore. I’ll write some blog articles on it, a couple of how-to guides, and my overall review of this product and the plume air report app.
Right now, I can’t give you an honest review because I haven’t fully tested it. I’m still learning the ropes and understanding how it works. But of course, one thing I want to break down is concerning quality.
What are we getting for your money? Because when we think of air pollution, we start thinking of super fancy, air quality consultant, government-funded machines. It just sounds expensive! We can break it down into three different types of machines.
- Monitoring stations. This involves people going to work in these box units for maybe the whole day or a few hours. Equipment will present inside to operate, at probably tens of thousands of pounds or dollars to set everything up. So you’ve got that as number one which would, however, be the greatest quality.
- Professional pollution sensors. I used them at university, so for me, environmental science and environmental engineering are my backgrounds and I did my dissertation around air quality and air pollution monitoring. I used devices called microaethalometer’s and micropems that measured black carbon and particulate matter, respectively. And with regards to the micropem, it was PM10, PM2.5 and PM1; we measured all three. That’s regarding the diameter of the particles in micrometres. Again, these individual units will set you back thousands of pounds/dollars. I remember having them in a rucksack and we trekked around Glasgow city centre and we mapped the pollution exposures; personal exposures and concentrations on various streets. In total in my bag, I probably had about 10-grand worth of kit. They’re very accurate, but also a bit harder to use. For the untrained person in layman’s terms, I wouldn’t advise people getting one. I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear!
- Flow. Then would come in this baby, the consumer level air pollution device, something that anybody can use. What you need is your phone, your smartphone because it’s synced to the plume air report app and the air pollution device itself.
So it’s really simple. You can see there are no buttons on this so it looks cool and simple. You see all these little holes on the device. These are air pockets that will allow air intake for the sensors.
Admittedly, it took a while for me to realize how this works. You can press your finger into the middle of the device and some lights begin flashing. This will continue to happen provided the Flow has charge. That’s because the device is always on, constantly taking measurements, so long as it doesn’t run out of charge.
There is a little fan inside that’s turning at 15,000 RPM revolutions per minute. So it takes up a lot of energy. However, I think the battery life is pretty good. You get 24 hours of usage out of this for a two and a half-hours charge, which is pretty neat.
Hover over the interactive image below to get more info on the Flow.
Plume air report app device analysis
The set of LED lights is different from the single-dot LED for battery status. They form a circle and will start to flash and rotate when the device is taking a measurement.
There is also a purple colour for super high pollution concentrations, but I've never experienced this firsthand, only when the data is synced to the app.
The red light means the battery is low. When the device has a medium charge, it'll be yellow, although I don't think the yellow is that obvious; maybe I'm colourblind! Either way, it's not a big deal as when the device is fully charged, it's green and that's pretty obvious.
The 'yellow' almost looks 'whitish' to me but is synonymous to medium-charge in my brain.
Check out the short video clip as an example for pollution status.
In this example, you'll see the status is 'Green', which means low air pollution.
So the Flow is loaded with tonnes of these little holes which allows for the passage of air. In fact, so long as the device has charge, it'll draw in the air constantly, with a little internal fan spinning at 15,000 RPM!
This effectively controls air intake so the devices is never stagnant, which reduces the risk of it becoming blocked with dust.
Personally, I hooked the Flow through my rucksack but I see no reason why you couldn't do something similar with a push pram or bicycle handlebars.
If you can think of something else, go for it!
As the air and pollutants come through the device, they'll be categorized as either nitrogen dioxide, VOCs or PM.
Flow creates electrical signals that send quantitative data to the companion app that's read on your end as an AQI - air quality index score. The higher the number, the poorer the air quality.
For example, an AQI of below 20 is low and registered as green.
So it comes with a little docking station that you can just put it in if you were charging at home as well as a USB. So let’s say you always wanted to track your air pollution monitoring. Maybe you take the bike to work, you attach it to your bike, or your rucksack or something. You can charge at your desk with a USB by plugging into your laptop.
So in terms of the look, it’s sleek. It’s got this nice brown leather strap. For me, I will be attaching it to my rucksack.
So to get back to the question on quality of results and accuracy. For the vast majority of us health-conscious individuals that take a decent interest in environmental health and how the environment is positively and/or negatively impacting our health. This device seems on paper to be good. As I said, I need to test it to give my thorough review of it to you guys.
But I don’t think there’s anything better on the market. I didn’t see much else on offer that was as user-friendly, aesthetically appealing and competitively/affordably priced. I haven’t identified anything else on the market that was like this. You’re quite limited.
Now I’m sure maybe over the next year or two we’ll see many more of these devices. Air pollution has been in the news for many years now. Reporting on the millions of premature deaths from air pollution every year, especially the vast majority of which would be in the developing world.
But it will still exacerbate a lot of preexisting health conditions in the modern world in congested cities where you’ve traffic-related air pollution and combustion and exhausts, and you’ve got heavily congested cities with trucks and lorries.
It will play a part, without question, in the exacerbation of preexisting lung conditions, respiratory and cardiovascular issues. Absolutely. And even things like nasal congestion, watery eyes and hives. Not necessarily life-threatening things, but things that can degrade your quality of life.
So that’s why there will be tons of people that want to understand how air pollution is affecting them and also avoid these hotspots. With your phone, you can sync to GPS. So without the phone, this thing’s near enough useless. You need your phone because the phone is GPS. What’s the point in having air pollution exposures if you don’t know where they occurred, right?
Moreover, Flow has an accompanying plume air report app, kind of similar to like a GoPro. Similar to you getting your software updates through your GoPro with the app. I filmed the video above on a GoPro, which is how I came up with the analogy, so it’s a similar thing and the app is crucial.
Relating to Flow, you’ll get the GPS data through your phone. So ideally both come with you, but you’re always taking your phone with you everywhere anyway, so it’s not as if these two devices are cumbersome. Like I said earlier, it’s kind of like putting name-to-face; the plume air report app will produce the maps and street view, and the Flow device will do the actual air pollution measurements.
This runs 24/7, providing there’s charge. I recommend charging it every night like you would charge your phone and you would attach it to yourself and your phone’s going to be in your pocket. You just make sure that everything is charged and ready to go.
Regarding the monitoring results, I will record my screen actually and I will show you what it looks like with the GPS in terms of the streets that you’re walking down. Because then you can identify the hotspots and if certain streets are really polluted with a high AQI, that’s air quality index, the quantitative measurements that the Flow app goes off of. If there are polluted streets, the great thing is you’ll know, thanks to this device, which streets are highly polluted, you can avoid those areas, and better protect your health.
So that’s the whole point in this, to have a better understanding of how polluted or how clean the air is in your city, identifying the hotspots and then finding ways to avoid them. Take another route to work. Hey, you may end up finding a shorter route to work, but if it means it’s an extra few minutes, I don’t care, personally. It would be worth it for me for cleaner air.
You see, the air we breathe is so crucial to our health. We know that millions of people die prematurely from poor air quality every year, albeit most of them are going to occur because people are burning dung or raw coal in their homes in developing countries for heating and to cook their food.
But as I said, you cannot underestimate how big of an impact clean air will have on your everyday productivity and wellbeing. So that’s the good thing about this.
To me, it seems great on paper because of what you’re getting. When you think about how well engineered this is. This device is about eight, nine centimetres in length. It weighs about, I think it’s about 300 grams. To attach it to your bag is nothing. It’s not a nuisance at all.
And in terms of what it’s doing, it’s taking the air pollutant concentrations. It’s converting them into an electrical signal, which in turn is being converted into a digital signal that is being presented to us as an air quality index score on a nicely designed, sleek app that shows us if our pollution levels are too high, moderate or low. This is great to see if you’re in a healthy range.
This is what your plume air report app is telling you about your city. That’s the streets to avoid, and if you’re also the kind of data geek where you want to take a deep dive into it, you can as well from the app emailing you a CSV file. You can export the data and analyse to your heart’s content. Make pivot tables, whatever you want to do.
But in terms of having all this with 15,000 RPM rotatory fan and for £119. Because the airflow is constant, this fan is constantly rotating at a really high speed. It needs to be because you’ve got all of these little air pockets which could get clogged. So we’re talking about the likes of dust particles posing a greater risk of the device being clogged and not functioning if the fan weren’t to run continuously.
So in terms of all that in this tiny little device for £119 compared to the micropems that I used for £3,000 which is out of reach for the vast majority of human beings, I think this could fit the bill.
However, I am still going to test it and I’ll give you my honest review on it. I’ll see if the mappings are accurate and I will try my best to create as sound a scientific experiment as I can for you guys to see if you also want to better combat air pollution with this little device.
Should you want to read more of my air pollution and remediation articles, here are a couple of examples:
Grab a free custom-designed image that shows you all the air pollution sources in your home. Click here.