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Business & Tech, Eco & Wellness - 12/20/18

Do You Know What You’re Breathing?

Written by Christy C

Singapore tech startup uHoo has built an indoor air monitor with the sole aim of guarding you against air pollution by providing 24/7 air quality monitoring in your home.

Whilst outdoor air pollution continues to rank very highly amongst global concerns, what happens inside our homes has – as yet – gathered less air time. Yet, a study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2014 found that household air pollution accounts for over 4 million deaths each year, as well as numerous chronic respiratory diseases. Singapore-based entrepreneur Dustin Onghanseng wants to raise awareness of this. With his startup uHoo and their indoor air monitor, he is determined to inform people about the silent threat that lurks within their walls. “It’s the little things that people aren’t aware of – the paint, furniture, perfumes, detergent, that all contribute to indoor pollutants,” he says. Read on to hear how he intends to help.

A victim of indoor air pollution himself, Dustin has experienced firsthand the detrimental effect poor air quality has on one’s health. Since childhood, the former Deloitte consultant has grappled with allergic rhinitis (colloquially known as hay fever), an allergy that causes incessant sneezing fits, a runny nose and itchy eyes that was exacerbated by his frequent exposure to the allergens in the air that pervaded his dormitory and classrooms when he was studying for an MBA at Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology. Contacting the school to raise his concerns, Dustin met a brick wall, simply because the school couldn’t find any solid evidence to support his claim. So, he came to his own conclusion: whilst external pollution is a well-identified threat, indoor pollution remains a more invisible concern for the majority.

Researching further, Dustin found stats that supported his theory. Whilst damp and mouldy homes can increase our risk of asthma by 40%, carbon dioxide accumulated in indoor spaces with poor ventilation can also undermine people’s cognitive abilities. According to Vox, people exposed to poor indoor air are less capable of focusing, thinking strategically and managing information usefully. It’s all evidence that signalled an urgent need to inform people about the hidden health hazards around them and spark behaviour changes. And that is what Dustin set out to do when he dropped out of class in 2014. Together with his like-minded friend Brian Lin, who also suffers from asthma and shared the same frustrations with contaminated indoor air, they incorporated uHoo, a Singapore-based, clean tech startup dedicated to making sure the indoor air pollution problem doesn’t go unnoticed. As Dustin puts it, “you can only manage what you can measure.”

After three years of work, uHoo’s first product was born – a smart indoor air monitor that detects allergens and toxins in your local environment and alerts you when air quality hits unhealthy levels. Once connected to Wifi, uHoo integrates seamlessly into other smart home networks, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo. Providing real-time data and insights, it also makes suggestions on how to optimise your air quality via its accompanying app, such as when to cut down on chemical cleaners or wash your child’s toy. Sized like a coffee mug, the sleek device blends well into any living environment and is also handy enough to travel with.

Dustin says that what sets uHoo apart from its competitors is the number of sensors contained in one device. Priced at USD 329, it comes equipped with nine dedicated sensors, measuring nine air quality parameters – temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, PM2.5, VOCs, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and air pressure, offering users a more comprehensive analysis of their indoor air quality. Currently, it is deployed in offices, hospitals, schools, hotels, and other public and private spaces in over 10 countries with an impressive client list which includes international companies like Ricola and Linda as well as Schiphol airport and the government of the Netherlands.

In the era of the indoor generation, when we spend an estimated 90% of our lives indoors, having an air pollution monitor for the spaces we inhabit makes sense. And, by providing its technology, uHoo wants to ask everyone to look urgently at their working and living environments. Having recently secured seed funding, the startup is only more steadfast in its fight against what it sees as a silent killer. “It is the fundamental right of people to breathe clean air,” says Dustin. “We strive to raise awareness by informing people of what they breathe, so they can start to take appropriate action.”

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