Monday, March 14, 2016

AirVisual Node Keeps You Informed About Your Air Quality



We spend so much time taking care what food we consume and how it affects our health but rarely do we stop to think about the very air that we breath. Depending on our location anything from a simple walk to just sitting at our desk could be exposing us to many more unhealthy substances than we could have imagined. Some cities now report on smog as part of their daily weather reports and this trend is only becoming more prevalent as pollution becomes a bigger and better understood problem. Air quality both indoors and out is starting to become a more conscious issue that is becoming as important as knowing the day's weather.

While the number of air quality advisories may be on a downward trend in some areas, that does not mean the actual number of smog days has decreased. Looking at official data from Ontario shows almost consistently the number of advisories is less than actual smog days.

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PM2.5 Trend for different locations

Another report from the Toronto Star shows that looking at large areas may not and often does not show the full picture. This is all from a province that has prided itself on its climate change and pollutants stance. Data from the US shows similar trends.

Air quality variations across Toronto

The AirVisual air quality monitor is a product from an international team that is looking to help the public be more aware of the air quality in both their immediate and general environment. By producing a product that measures particles that fit in with the respiratory ingestible size and below, they are hoping to promote change through public awareness.

Air Quality Effect on Daily Life

Air quality affects us more than we realize and often more frequently than we would like to admit. From larger particles in perfumes to smaller particles in smog they all have their effects.

Common particles found in the Air

Indoor Air Quality

Populations that live further from the equator may spend a much as 90% of their time indoors. Staying indoors this much of the time, whether working in an office with a HVAC system or in our homes, we may believe we are immune from the pollutants and negative effects of bad air quality but this is not so.

The number and diversity of air pollutants is vast, even in indoor environments. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety the list includes anything from gasses (CO2, VOCs, etc.) to various size particles (tobacco smoke, dust, fiberglass, etc). The specific effects of exposure to these gasses and particles can range from the common dry and irritated eyes and throat through to shortness of breath, dizziness and even nausea. These symptoms may not always point to one specific source or even to one form of sickness, the overall issue has been given various names such as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) or Tight Building Syndrome (TBS), Building-Related Illness (BRI) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). Whatever it may be called the effects are very real and can have negative effects not just on health but on productivity as well a company's bottom line.

Outdoor Air Quality

While most people may think they understand and know what populations are in the air outside the reality is most of us don’t. For those of us that think we do, we may not fully understand implications of such air quality is.

We all understand that cars emit fumes and produce smog that is unhealthy, but what is smog and why is it so, we often do not know. Smog contains gases and fine particles. The gasses include such compounds as ozone (O3), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), VOCs among others. The particles may be made up from anything including smoke, dust, even fine vapour particles.

The effects of this soup of chemicals and particles is varied but always negative. The most common effects of smog is eye and throat irritation but may include shortness of breath, asthma and even Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Correlation between particle size and respiratory penetration

AirVisual Node

For these reasons air quality is becoming more important and more relevant in our daily lives. And to help us better understand what air quality is the AirVisual Node provides real time data as well as forecasts to help plan when activities should be done and how air quality can be improved. The AirVisual Node uses AI to forecast future air quality based on past air quality samples. If the AirVisual Node is used outdoors then the software uses both weather data as well as data from more than 8000 environmental sampling stations around the world to give a three day forecast of air quality in your area.

AirVisual three day forecast

Besides the AI built into the the AirVisual software, to help forecast air quality, the real breakthrough with the AirVisual Node is the quality of the PM2.5 sensor compared to its price point. This is just one of four sensors built into the AirVisual Node and the team is hoping at some point to be able to add more to help predict other components of smog.


With the sensitivity and accuracy of the AirVisual Node there is a constant need for the unit to take into account the various factors that may throw of its readings. To ensure the unit stays as accurate as possible there are two calibrating sensors to help remove these known offsets.

2.5µm Laser Sensor

The AirVisual Node uses a laser sensor to count particles in the 2.5 μm range. The sensor has undergone a decent amount of testing and more than a year worth of R&D. The constant testing has proven that the the AirVisual Node has a very close correlation with expensive Beta Attenuation Monitors and well within the acceptable region.

Correlation between AirVisual Node and a Beta Attenuation Monitor

CO2  Sensor

As CO2 plays a part in describing the amount of ventilation or usable air is around us, the AirVisual Node has a CO2 sensor that measures between 400 ppm and 10,000 ppm. While the exact type and accuracy of the sensor has not been disclosed, it has been stated that the sensor is self calibrating and should remain accurate for at least 7 years.


The temperature sensor is rated to work between -10°C ~ 40°C which would allow the unit to easily work indoors and outdoors in most places around the world with little trouble. For those in the more northern regions (Canada, Greenland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Russia, etc) they may be times of the year that the unit may not work acceptably as an outdoor sensor.


The humidity sensor has a range between 0 ~ 100% RH. This is standard for most sensors today and would allow for the AirVisual Node to be used in most if not all habitable environments. These last two sensors while giving relevant and real time data are important mainly due to their ability to help the laser sensor self calibrate in various environmental conditions.

Setup and Usage

The AirVisual Node is simple and easy to setup, once plugged in a setup wizard walks the user through connecting to the local WiFi network. Once this has been completed the AirVisual Node does the rest. Since the unit can be identified as an outdoor node the location is needed. If this mode is selected then the AirVisual Node uses the IP address to obtain its location removing any further setup from the user. If selected as in indoor node then no further setup is required.

The daily usage of the AirVisual Node is just as simple. With a 5 inch LED screen that is easy to read and understand the need for an app or PC to read the data is removed. That being said should you want to check your stats from a remote location this can be done from a free app on either you Android or iOS device.

AirVisual Node display

The AirVisual Node can also be used to test different areas around your environment as well as to determine if the measures you have taken to rectify your air quality are working. With a built in battery that should last approximately 5 hours, taking measurements around a home or office would be an easy task. In addition to this, the CO2 sensor has an update rate of 1 - 2 minutes and the PM2.5 becomes stable within 30 seconds. All these factors together allow the AirVisual Node to be used to evaluate your indoor space as well how corrective measures you have taken are working.

If the unit is connected to the outdoor network, then the unit pulls data from the AirVisual cloud data to give a three day forecast on air quality. This prediction uses over 80,000 data points from around the world. The air quality (AQI) readings are provided using the EPA standards making the readings easy to understand and consistent. While AirVisual has a map of world air pollution and has a lot of sites there does appear to be some simplification or missing sites from the map while others are added. In order to fill the missing air quality information in the world, AirVisual has already deployed some Nodes in countries that do not report air pollution information. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, got its first air pollution monitoring data from an AirVisual Node placed in the vicinity of the Olympic stadium.

Viability of project

While this may seem to be a very optimistic project, the expertise gathered by the team is both vast and impressive. With a number of working units in the field already the big question often is getting a product to market. After two years of R&D including how best to make the unit is such away that it is easy to manufacture the team is close to the finish line. One of their biggest assets at this point in the project is the experience and expertise in manufacturing the team has. With at least one member having 8 years experience in manufacturing the ability of the team to cross the finish line is greatly increased.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Skriware 3D Printer Product Review


Skriware is a new innovative 3D printing ecosystem on the market and with a new outlook on 3D printing it could really help accelerate personal 3D printers in the average home. Skriware’s new approach revolves around their easy to use Skriware printer and Skrimarket where 3D models can be “downloaded” and printed. “Downloaded” because the same way you download a TV show or movie while you watch it in real time is the same experience you get when printing from Skrimarket.

Out of The Box Experience
When opening the box it is clear the printer is made for home use. Its elegant design screams simplicity and intuitiveness that may be comparable to the likes of Apple. Once out of the box there is nothing to connect other than a power cable. Powering on the unit is done by the easy to reach power switch on the rear corner of the unit.

Figure . Power switch and connections for power and ethernet

Once booted, tapping on the setup icon on the touch screen presents a WiFi option. Clicking here displays the available WiFi connection points around the Skriware printer. After selecting an access point all that is left to do is to enter the access point's password and the Skriware is set up, the next step is setting up the computer.

Figure . WiFi connection steps: Settings -> Connect to WiFi

Figure . Skriware searching for available WiFi APs: Select AP then enter password

In order to print a model, once the Skriware has been set up, a program is run (python script) to find the Skriware printer on the network. Since the program is python based, it runs equally on Windows, Linux and Mac OS, once done we are ready to print. Going to the Skrimarket we are presented with a nice selection of models separated into various categories. Navigate to the category of your choice and select the model you wish to print and press print. When the printer is finished lift the print bed from the printer and peel the magnetic bed from the model.

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Figure . Skrimarket selection and print button

Effect on the Average Home User
What makes the Skriware so drastically different is the Skrimarket. With Amazon selling anything and everything online today we have grown accustomed to conveniences not heard of before. From an armchair you can order almost anything and have it delivered in a few hours to a few days. Looking around you though, you will notice a lot of what we use today is made from plastic, opening a new question, why wait hours or days.

With Skrimarket if you are baking a cake and need a measuring cup you can easily print one. If you need a micro sim card adapter you can print that too. Anything you need you can quickly and easily print from Skrimarket. After talking with the developers it is apparent there will be two types of models in Skrimarket, free and paid. What they will also be adding is the ability for anyone to upload their models to the market opening the potential for 3D creators to not only show off their models but also make money from them.

Easy of Use for the 3D Developer
Since Skriware would like developers to get in on the action, whether for their own use or to share with others through Skrimarket, they have made sharing simple. After you have created your 3D model you can use any 3D slicer of your choosing to generate a gcode file. Currently Cura is used by the Skriware team but a software suite is in the works to simplify this process as well. What ever software you choose Skriware will gladly share their configuration for the printer to help you get a good solid print, although it must be noted that between different reel manufacturers and even different colors, settings may need to be changed.

After generating your gcode there are three ways to print your model. With WiFi connectivity the Skriware acts like your any other printer, just send the file to it and the Skriware will do the rest. The second option is via ethernet, for those not wanting to use WiFi or who may not have WiFi, this is another option. Lastly there is a USB interface, USB was chosen for its abundance over SD cards, as almost everyone has a USB thumb drive somewhere . On the home screen selecting browse opens the file explorer for the USB drive. The user can then navigate through the directories to choose the model they wish to print and then press print.

Figure . Using a USB thumb drive: select Browse -> File you wish to print -> Print

Skriware’s Construction and Reliability
Looking over the Skriware printer, it is not only elegant and beautiful it is also masterfully engineered. Talking with Damian, the lead hardware engineer, it is clear a lot of thought has gone into the design and manufacture of the printer. A simple question does not always give you the simple answer you’d expect. Asking about the size of the print area does not elicit the response “we randomly chose this size”, but rather, we built several working models both bigger and smaller and this is the size that fit  best for a user's needs while still a having a footprint similar to that of a conventional home printer. The noise generated by the Skriware printer is such that we were printing on the same table as the computer we were having our video conference and the ability to communicate was the same as with the printer off.

Going deeper into the printer it is clear even small details here have been considered  and that a lot of care and pride has been taken in the Skriware’s construction. The printer itself is made of steel giving a solid and robust feel. In the guts of the printer automotive or high temperature parts have been selected to help ensure product longevity giving the end user peace of mind in the reliability and longevity of the printer. In fact the only part that may pose a problem is the feed tube but this too I have been told has been unexpectedly tested. When needing to shift the Skriware over a few inches this was inadvertently used as a handle (a practice not condoned by the team) with no adverse affects to the printer or subsequent prints.

Talking about using the printer and potential issues that may arise, again I am reassured that most issues have been thought of and taken care of. What if the feed tube jams or the print head becomes blocked? This will be detected by the Skriware and will alert the user preventing time consuming print delays. That being said the team has printed a great deal of items and have yet to have any unexpected issues with the print head or with the reel jamming.

Print Features and Quality
Not only is it incredibly easy to select and print models but there are some interesting features as well. The Skriware can be paused at any point without causing any issues in the print process. This is nice if something needs to be adjusted or if you want to place something in the print mid print. I have not tried but, I am told that I can even pause the print change the reel and carry on printing with no issues. A cool benifit of this is the ability to print with multiple colors in the same print. WiFi connection problems are also not an issue as the Skriware stores the full model internally before starting the print reducing the concerns of a mis print.

Finally the quality of prints are stunning, a print of Darth Vader is not only smooth but shiny. As for curling, this has not been an issue once all the print setting are set correctly unless the full bed is used in a single print. Printing very large squares have produced some curling but that is to be expected when considering the thermal contraction of the PLA filament during its cooling.

I would have to say the Skriware is a very interesting and catchy ecosystem. The Skriware team has really put a lot of thought and effort into the printer and market place. Following good design and keeping the whole process simple has really produced a truly user friendly product that is both beautiful and easy to use. If they can get their message out, an ecosystem such as this has the potential to revolutionize not only 3D printing but also how we see buying and selling products on a daily basis. So go out and get your Skriware Printer today and start printing or adding your models to Skrimarket.


Original post on Element14 can be found here