One of my favourite new products of last year was Netatmo’s Healthy Home Coach, a desktop air-quality monitoring device. One now sits on the desk in my home office. When I’m away, I like to check in and know that, if the temperature, humidity and noise level are all good, then the place probably hasn’t burnt down. And when I’m working at my desk on a cold day, it periodically warns me that the CO2 level is high and that I should open a window. When I open it, of course, I then get cold and it politely warns that working at below 17°C can be tiring.
The Foobot, from a Luxembourg- and San Francisco-based company, is a more vigilant air‑quality monitor. I installed the sample offering in my open-plan kitchen-living room after coming home from a month away and encountering an odd smell, which I naturally assumed was some volatile carcinogenic compound. The device measures volatile compounds, CO2 (recalculated from volatile compounds), particulate matter (the troublesome fine particles in diesel fumes), temperature and humidity.
Now I have to tell you, I haven’t gone deeply into the science, but I’m perfectly happy when the device glows blue, telling me on the accompanying app that the air in my home is “Great” – the lower tiers being Good, Fair and Poor. If things go awry, air wise, the device goes showily orange and sends an alert to the app, where you can see a detailed breakdown of the pollution.
Hearing that such devices can be tricked by strong but harmless smells, I tried to provoke a false alarm by placing the Foobot inches from an exceptionally garlicky dish I’d made. The Foobot wasn’t fooled for a moment. On the other hand, it instantly went orange when I had a couple of gas rings burning, reminding me of the good advice to open a window when cooking with gas. It also picked up burning toast before my nose – that’ll be the microparticles rising from the toaster.