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Humanscale's Desktop Air Purifier Promises a Cone of Clean Air

Few of us want to live in a bubble, but how about working inside a cone of clean air? Office-furniture maker Humanscale has rethought the air purifier by developing the Humanair, a unit that aims to give users personalized airspace. The product sprang from a collaboration with Swedish inventor Andrzej Loreth. "He was doing air purification for big warehouses and subway tunnels," says Humanscale global product manager Shane Cohen. "We've been working with him to create a product on a much smaller scale that can be used on a personal level."

The technology uses a very low-powered electrical field to charge particles without generating ozone, a by-product of some air purifiers from the previous generation. Four fans then pull air gently through the machine, trapping particles against oppositely charged filter paper. Unlike most filter-based purifiers, everything happens in slow motion, so the machine generates little noise or breeze, which allowed Humanscale's big move: relocating the unit — about the size of a flat-panel monitor — to the desktop. Rather than attempting to clean air in an entire room, which is nearly impossible in today's open-plan offices, "we're able to blanket the user in a cone of clean air," Cohen says.

Humanscale expects its gadget to be on the market by year's end. But be warned: It won't have a feature alerting you when unauthorized visitors enter your airspace.

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A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.