Investigate local air pollution with this pocket-sized device
Kickstarter of the week: PocketLab Air
Unless you’re in complete denial or living in the White House, you probably appreciate that the planet is warming at an alarming rate and that humans are chiefly to blame. But the problem is both abstract enough and moving sufficiently slowly that it can be hard to focus minds on.
This week’s Kickstarter intends to fix that, while crowdsourcing citizen science to improve our understanding of the challenges the planet faces.
What is PocketLab Air?
PocketLab Air is a rugged, affordable device for citizen scientists and school children of all age to measure the air quality of the world around them, including CO2, ozone and particulate matter. The device has enough battery power to measure the world for an entire day and can save up to 30,000 data points to its internal memory before it needs to link to a phone or laptop. It’s rugged enough to carry anywhere – and can even be attached to a drone if you want to get a closer reading of the sky above you.
“I started PocketLab four years ago while I was getting my PhD in wireless sensors for smartcity and smart infrastructure types of applications,” PocketLab founder Clifton Roozeboom tells Alphr via email. “I wanted to build a device that was easy-to-use and portable so that anyone could go out and explore the world.
“Our first products were focused on physics and engineering education. With our third generation product, we wanted to address the global issues of air quality and climate change.”
Indeed, the PocketLab Air isn’t just about measuring pollution-related matters. Sensors for temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and light intensity are also built in. “All PocketLab devices are multi-functional, so you get a lot of value out of a single product,” says Rooseboom.
The value, of course, is a two-way street – not just to Rooseboom and his company, but to the world as a whole. More data is most certainly a good thing, and more data points around the planet can only help that. Mission Mode gamifies the process, allowing PocketLab Air users to collaborate by collecting data to submit to researchers and citizen scientists around the world – although the company is clear that data will never be shared without your express permission. You get the impression that most people backing this kind of project would be super keen, mind.
Now on its third Kickstarter, the company sees crowdfunding as the best way to get science into the hands of future generations.“The biggest challenge has been balancing funding with growth and engineering development,” Rooseboom explains. “We’re a bootstrapped company, so we have to operate very lean. Kickstarter is a great way for us to afford new engineering development without having to take outside investment.”
Why should I care?
These kinds of devices tend to have quite a high bar to entry, and not be hugely open to hobbyists and citizen scientists. This has the potential to inspire great future minds to solve a set of problem that our current generation is struggling to get a handle on.
How much and when would I get it?
Despite this, there is still an opportunity to get a PocketLab Air at the early bird pricing of $198 (~£147). For that, you get the PocketLab Air, a hard shell carrying case a charging cable and the application cards. When it launches, it’ll go for $300 (~£223), so that’s a decent saving.
Right now, PocketLab is looking for deliveries in October 2018, so you’ll be in the dark at how polluted your home is until then.
Is there anything else like PocketLab Air out there?
Not really. There are tools for this, but they tend to either be aimed at industry and professionals; not portable; expensive or all three.
On top of this, Rooseboom points out that they often deliver fewer measurements. “Other products on the market for chemical gas measurements, air quality, or competitors to our physics sensors do not have that same combination of features.”
How risky is backing PocketLab Air?
As ever with crowdfunding, there is no such thing as a guaranteed product. The end result may not be what’s promised, might never see the light of day, or might disappoint in another way. Only pay what you can afford to lose.
While there’s no such thing as a sure thing in this world, the PocketLab Air is a pretty safe bet – chiefly because the company has successfully delivered two previous versions on Kickstarter. This makes the prototypes demonstrated in the video that bit more believable – but even without this pedigree, the very fact that there are prototypes is a hugely positive sign of a successful project.