Wearable air pollution tracker Flow is on track for pre-orders this fall

What is in the air around you?
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Remember Flow? The clip-on, connected air quality tracker from French startup Plume Labs? It's designed to give city dwellers real time information on the air we're breathing and help to change habits over time. A noble goal indeed and one that could saves a lot of lives and a lot of money.

We now have an idea of when you'll be able to get your hands on one - Plume Labs is gearing up to open pre-sales on its website in fall 2017 and will ship devices in early 2018. There's no firm price yet for the device, which you can wear attached to clothes, bags, bikes, cars or even prams or placed around your home. Flow measures NOx (exhaust fumes), ozone, PM2.5 particulate matter and dust as well as VOCs in household products but the team says it will never be complete as pollutants shift and change.

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"Air pollution is a tough issue because it's invisible and always changing," says David Lissmyr, co-founder and CTO of Plume Labs. "We see it in our data - air quality varies a lot from place to place and time to time. We built Flow to help users find their way through air pollution and to reduce their exposure no matter where they are."

In the promo video, the Flow app pulls up a map suggesting different routes to work based on air pollution readings. With a beta test of 100 Londoners about to wrap in two weeks, the team of 20 hardware engineers and data scientists is still refining how to present the data to users. Plume Labs has already had 350,000 downloads of its free Air Report mobile app for iPhone and Android - which provides data on the city level - and in a survey, 73% of users said they have made changes based on the app. With the upcoming wearable, though, the platform can now get hyperlocal.

Wearable air pollution tracker Flow is on track for pre-orders this fall

"It will be so much better when people are zipping around with their sensors," says director of communications Tyler Knowlton. "Because the app is at the city level, we can't be so personal with it. We have to do a fair level of analysis to provide good advice.

"So rather than just seeing 'x part per million of NO2 gases', we take it a step further to be able to say 'yes, that is bad, if you're going to go running can you delay it an hour because it will be lower? Or don't go to Hyde Park, go to Battersea instead because it's better over there' if you have the option. Little things like that."

Working with academics at Imperial College London and King's College London, one of the biggest tasks is to figure out the best way to nudge users to change their habits around how they move about a city: "Ask anyone with a Fitbit how effective it is at changing behaviour."

Once the device is shipped, there's also lots more potential in the data. The startup has just launched an API and the likes of Amazon Alexa and The Economist are already tapping into the air quality data - students, academics and enthusiasts can access it for free.

New sensors could be worked with, a pollen count sensor is thrown out as an ambitious but possible one, and there's scope for integration with both smart home and sleep sensing companies and city planners looking into the smart city. The highest interest so far is from France following by the US, UK and Mexico and while it might sound like a gimmick at first, the impact could be huge.

"With air pollution, it's not like a Tricorder where you show up and you're like OK, it's safe," says Knowlton. "It's looking at cumulative exposure so exposure to pollution over time. People want that immediate 'zap, zap' satisfaction and it does that but really the value is looking back at your month to month exposure and trying to reduce that over time."

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Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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