If it weren’t for his daughter, Ronald Ro, a San Francisco-based engineer, might still be working for Boeing or Samsung. And if it weren’t for her dad, 6-year-old Jungsuh might still be struggling with her eczema.
At first glance, the $199 Awair, with its minimalistic display and North American walnut case, looks like a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired alarm clock. It gives you the time, but when you double-tap on the monitor, it displays the air quality scores in the room. There’s also the $179 Awair Baby, designed for nurseries in Ocean blue or Baby Rose. The final product in the line, Awair Glow ($109), plugs directly into an outlet and could easily be mistaken for a nightlight made by Apple.
“Just because there is technology within our products doesn’t mean they need to look like technology,” says Ro, who became Awair’s CEO.
But what really distinguishes Awair from other air monitors is its empowerment capabilities.
According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2017 report, more than 40 percent of Americans — more than 125 million people — live in counties that have unhealthful levels of ozone or particle pollution. Dirty air exacerbated Ro’s daughter’s eczema and Cho’s sons’ asthma; it’s the archenemy of people with allergies and chemical sensitivities; and it’s been linked to sleeping problems and even death. According to 2014 World Health Organization estimates, polluted air is the cause of one out of every eight deaths in the world.
Indoor air can be five times as polluted as outdoor air, according to Awair, and people — whether they’re in a hotel room that’s been cleaned with harsh chemicals … or in a packed and poorly ventilated meeting room with rising levels of carbon dioxide … or in an older home with low-quality paint and carpeting that leaks chemicals into the air — often don’t realize they’re inhaling toxins.
Awair monitors the temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, chemicals and dust in a room, and when any of them reach unhealthy levels — indicated by a color code on the display — it notifies an app that recommends solutions.
“We always jokingly say in the office, ‘The only people who need Awair are those who breathe air,’” says Ro. “Many people don’t think about air because they don’t see it, but the fact is that we wouldn’t drink dirty water, but so many of us breathe dirty air.”
The Awair app also provides tips and recommended courses of action from the Mayo Clinic. For example, it may suggest placing a peace lily, which removes airborne chemicals, in a bathroom with a high chemical score. Or it may recommend using 100 percent soy and beeswax candles, since conventional candles omit high levels of volatile organic compounds. It’s also programmed to remind users to keep up on housekeeping, from laundering linens to wiping away dust.
People who own the Awair Glow can even turn on heaters, air conditioners and humidifiers remotely when the app detects unhealthy air. “We’ve received emails from users raving about how they connect their irons to it because they always forget to turn it off,” says Ro. “We’ve even heard about some people connecting their crock pots, which we can’t promote, but we admire the creativity.”
Awair can connect over Wi-Fi to Alexa, Google Home, Nest and the IFTTT web service to automate the process of purifying your air, and it keeps a log of recordings so you can track air quality over time. But unlike some other air monitors, such as Wave from Airthings, Awair shows only 24 hours’ worth of data, so users have to go back a day at a time to navigate their history.
Ro says his team is still working on improving the user experience, adding that his team values feedback and is continually updating the tips to make sure users are comfortable with them.
“We have accomplished much since we launched Awair in 2015,” he said. “But looking at the roadmap, one thing is clear: This is just the beginning.”
Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she’s not working, she’s chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.