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This Device Knows How Air Pollution Is Affecting You Right Now

There are plenty of devices out there that measure air quality, but they don’t tell you how that air quality is affecting your body. The Conscious Clothing system will warn you when things get bad for your lungs.

It’s one thing to measure environmental conditions like air quality. It’s another to see how those conditions affect people. With the Conscious Clothing system–the $100,000 winner of the My Air, My Health Challenge–you get both, in real time.

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The challenge was organized by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the EPA to find air pollution monitoring technologies that are “more detailed and more personal.” Conscious Clothing, which beat out three other finalists, is an integrated device that combines data on air quality with information about your breathing to calculate what particulates you’re taking in.

The team behind the wearable product hopes it will be used by athletes and researchers–and help with issues like asthma, sleep apnea, and sudden infant death syndrome. “There’s been a lot of excitement among researchers because of the low cost of it,” says Gabrielle Savage Dockterman, who developed the device with Dot Kelly and David Kuller. “It’s not a big clunky device that costs a lot of money. So, they’ll be able to make their grant money go a lot further, because it’s orders of magnitude less expensive.”

The partners plan to use the $100,000 to commercialize the prototype and sell it as a consumer product. Dockterman hopes it will have a price tag similar to the Nike+ FuelBand, which goes for about $150.


Key to the device is a stretchy band called a “groove strip” that goes around the chest. One side is made of nylon and lycra; the other is a knitted silver “matrix.” The device can tell how deeply you’re breathing in and out based on the tautness of the band. The system combines this information with data from an air sensor, which sends a reading via Bluetooth to a mobile device. There’s also a visual LED display, so you can get an immediate sense of the pollution around you. For example, a blue light burns brighter in better environmental conditions.

“Ultimately, when we go into production, it won’t be this big robotic thing. We’ll shrink it down into something that can be built into clothing,” says Dockterman. She adds that it could be used all over the body–not only in the chest area. “It also measures the vibrations in your body, like it’s a big bag of water. From that, we can look at heartbeat, and other stresses that are going on.”

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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