Foobot review: Can this air quality monitor save your life?
Air quality is big news right now. With pollution levels at all-time highs in our towns and cities, and some areas of London outdoing even Beijing for levels of particulates earlier this year, it’s a big problem. It’s so bad that even the government has taken notice, and has responded by setting out plans to ban sales of diesel and petrol cars by 2040.
That’s a long way off, though, so what can you do if you’re worried about it? As far as pollution outside is concerned, the answer is not much, other than wait. However, when it comes to indoor air pollution – which it has been suggested is an even bigger problem – you can use a product like the Foobot.
Foobot review: What does it do?
The Foobot is an air-quality monitor – a smaller version of the devices government agencies use to keep tabs on and report on outside air quality – and it’s packed with a variety of sophisticated sensors.
These enable it to keep tabs on three different types of airborne pollutants: particulates (the really dangerous pm2.5 particles typically kicked out by diesel vehicles); carbon dioxide; and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) – the sorts of chemical nasties released by chemical cleaning products, paint and even the glue used in furniture. It also has temperature and humidity sensors to help you correlate pollution “events” with changes in the local environment at home.
It works pretty well, too. When pollution levels are high, the LED at the front of the Foobot glows orange; when it’s within acceptable levels, the light glows blue. That should be enough to put the frighteners on you, but it’s fairly rudimentary in terms of the information it’s capable of conveying.
In order to access more detailed statistics and graphs, you need to use the Foobot’s companion app (available on both iOS and Android devices) and connect the Foobot to the internet via your Wi-Fi network.
This is relatively straightforward. The ‘bot has embedded Bluetooth, so scanning and connection are straightforward and, even more cleverly, putting it into setup mode is a simple matter of turning it upside down. An accelerometer inside detects orientation and does the rest.
Once everything is connected, you’ll be able to see precise particulate levels, CO2 and VOCs, and compare those against global and safe levels. Select a segment and swipe up and you’ll be able to access historically recorded levels by the hour, day, week or month.
In this way, it’s possible to correlate pollution spikes with certain types of domestic activity or environmental trends, such as cleaning, cooking or a period of particularly hot weather, and it’s also possible to manually tag spikes as you spot them.
It’s all very interesting stuff, and living with the Foobot has been an eye-opening experience. I’ve been running the Foobot at home for a couple of months now, with the device set up in my kitchen most of the time, and I’ve noticed several interesting trends.
Whenever we cook, for instance, the particulate pollution levels rise dramatically. When the weather’s cold and we keep the windows shut to trap the heat, the VOC levels ramp right up. I saw the highest VOC pollution levels when the heating came on during a particularly grey and drizzly Saturday, when the Foobot’s orange LED hit maximum for several hours.
The most interesting trend I’ve noticed over that time, however, is that during a spell of hot weather, even with all the windows open, the levels of pm2.5 particulate pollution hardly rose at all. Given that I live fairly close to a part of the A406 that has eight lanes of traffic, I found this surprising, but at least it’s one fewer thing to worry about.
Foobot review: What can you do about indoor pollution levels?
However, with studies showing that indoor air pollution has been responsible for significantly more deaths than outside air pollution, that’s perhaps not surprising.
A report published in February 2016 by the Royal College of Physicians estimated that indoor air pollution “may have may have caused or contributed to 99,000 deaths annually” across Europe, compared with outdoor air pollution having been responsible for around 40,000 deaths.
The question is, can you do anything about it? My experience with the Foobot indicates you can. Opening the windows while you’re cooking and occasionally when the heating is on reduces potentially harmful levels of indoor pollution almost instantly, with the Footbot light switching surprisingly quickly from orange to blue.
It’s also possible to automate various aspects of your smart heating, air purifier and ventilation systems based on Foobot-generated data thanks to IFTTT integration. And there’s Alexa support as well.
What I would like to see more of, however, are more tips and advice on what to do in the event of a pollution event. There’s plenty of information on the Foobot website’s FAQ section, and you can even ask Alexa for tips, but little advice within the app itself.
Foobot review: Verdict
Even then, strictly speaking, you don’t really NEED an air-quality monitor like the Foobot. Do your research and it’s fairly obvious what you need to do to keep indoor pollution levels low: open your windows, buy a decent cooker hood (and use it), and keep your use of strong cleaning chemicals to a minimum. Also, vacuum: you know you want a robot vacuum cleaner – go on, treat yourself.
However, what the Foobot does is provide a handy reminder to keep up with those good habits and, if you already have smart home systems, it can integrate with those to take care of your air quality for you. It’s pricey, but it’s an intriguing and effective product.