Glasgow-based design and engineering studio Filament PD has developed smart air quality monitors that use machine learning to suggest preventative action, aiming to protecting users from future health risks.
The in-house project began during the Covid-19 pandemic when Filament PD design director, now Nooku CEO, Danny Kane’s 18-month-old son was experiencing respiratory issues. After a doctor suggested that the problem might be the air quality in their home, Kane says he came across new research from the World Health Organisation revealing that “nine in ten homes were found to have poor air quality with at least one pollutant”.
Around the same time, Kane was looking into Innovate UK funding calls and noticed a government-backed competition to design a new generation of indoor air quality monitors to help people visualise and understand pollution in their homes and improve health. Filament PD partnered with electronics development company Orvio and tech agency Arceptive to apply for the competition. The team was one of three projects to receive funding, chosen from 120 applications.
Filament PD used the £370k from the UKRI Clean Air Fund to develop prototypes of the system “for testing in a live environment”, says Kane, adding that the outcome was “very well received”.
“Appealing to all ages”
“Most of us know more about the beans in our morning coffee than the air in our home”, says Kane. While he recognises that the pandemic and “several high-profile tragedies” increased awareness of indoor air quality, he thinks that most people still don’t understand how poor air quality can impact health.
Kane set out to speak to a variety of potential users, “from parents and students to air quality experts and architects”. Early on it was decided that the monitor design had to centre around “education and continued engagement” to facilitate “long-term behaviour change”, says Kane, as well as being accessible to all ages, including children. “Children are often the most vulnerable to poor indoor air quality as their lungs are still developing”, he adds.
Throughout the project, Filament PD worked with the NUVU Innovation school students in Glasgow to develop “a compelling user experience that appealed to all ages”, says Kane. Strathclyde and Swansea universities were also involved in testing the Nooku sensor system and helped to develop its AI Powered Predictive Air Quality Health platform.
“Actionable plain-language advice”
Making a conscious effort to avoid “confusing pollutant data”, Kane says that the studio incorporated “actionable plain language advice” into the Nooku system, providing people with easy-to-understand steps on to improve their home’s air quality.
Filament PD was keen to move away from “the data-heavy UI of current generation monitors”, according to Kane. He describes Nooku’s solutions as “simple and tailored” as it offers practical advice such as “what plants to buy and where to put them to absorb harmful NOx (Nitrogen Oxides) in the home from combustion engine fumes”.
Nooku’s system has also been designed to learn from its environment over time, so it can give occupants wider insights into air quality trends in the form of weekly and monthly reports. Kane explains how “gamified challenges encourage long-term engagement while educating users”, adding that the device is “like a Fitbit for air quality”.
A long-term approach to improving air quality
Kane highlights some of the things that set Nooku apart from existing air quality monitors, such as its ability to learn from its environment using machine learning algorithms to give tailored advice, and how it helps users to “visualise the effects of pollution, encouraging them to care about the air they breath”.
“Unlike traditional reactive monitors that only alert once a problem is detected, Nooku uses AI to predict health risks from long-term pollutant exposure, helping occupants to take preventative action”, he says.
Filament PD devised a “modular and expandable hardware and app ecosystem” allowing for whole home coverage for an affordable price, Kane adds. As well as being able to sense “a wide range of pollutants”. Kane says that Nooku can also connect to other smart home devices such as purifiers and dehumidifiers.
Nooku’s “patent-pending modular sensor system” presented the biggest challenge to the design team, says Kane, as their tech involves stacking multiple sensor modules on top of one another “to increase sensing capability”. He explains how everything from “the magnetic engagement mechanism to the sensor data transmission” of every physical and digital element had to work perfectly “to create a seamless user experience”.
“We went through dozens of prototype iterations and user testing to nail the satisfying clunk and UI transformation”, says Kane.
The next steps for Nooku
Nooku is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for early adopters and is due to enter production during the summer.
“Although we’re looking to initially launch the Nooku sensor hardware and consumer app, we view this as the tip of the iceberg. Our vision is that our cloud AI-powered Air Quality Health platform will power a range of products and services across both residential and commercial markets”, says Kane.