Friday, December 4, 2015

Mapping Air Quality Around Cities

About a month ago, we launched our very first smartphone app called SpeckSensor! We are excited to work together with you to understand and take control of the air we breathe every day.

The SpeckSensor app on Google Play and the iTunes Store automatically loads the latest Air Quality Index (AQI) reading from the federal air quality monitor nearest to your location. You may also add additional cities to your app to compare AQI readings in multiple locations.

We hope that you will connect with us on Twitter and Facebook and use #SpeckSensor on all of your posts to become a part of the conversation. Take a screenshot of your app to show us what you are experiencing!

Do you have a Speck inside your home? You can now monitor your home Speck readings from your smartphone while you are away. Simply add your Speck credentials to the app to start displaying your current Speck readings.

Stay tuned for new app features coming soon. And let us know what features you would like to see on your SpeckSensor app!

Read the full press release from Carnegie Mellon University:

Additional Coverage from NextPittsburgh:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Waiting for the law to be enforced.

"We are waiting for the law to be enforced."

How does that sentence affect you? When safety is on the line, isn't it scary to think that we have to push to enforce the law and frantically wave our arms to get someone to pay attention?

Last week, I learned of a very unfortunate story of air pollution harming a local church and it's 600+ members. After reading a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article titled, "Hotel Monaco restaurant ordered to pay $4,850 fine for violating air pollution enforcement order," I decided to pay a visit to downtown Pittsburgh with a Speck in hand.

Here is a summary of what I learned:

1. The newly renovated Hotel Monaco flexed its restaurant muscles and opened The Commoner on January 20, 2015. On its website, the Commoner promotes hand-smoked meats, an homage to the Steel City's industrial past, and a love for local which extends to their menu.

2. The restaurant's exhaust from the grill, wood-fired oven, and conventional oven was built to spit out to a small alley between it's own hotel (built in 1903) and the First English Evangelical Lutheran Church (built in 1887). Both buildings have historical landmark status. Below is a photo that I took from Rev. Brian Evans' window.

3. The Church's air intake system is located on the side of the alley, as shown below.

Now, without knowing anything about air pollution and fine particulate matter, you can see from the photos that the buildings are covered in soot and grime. Gross. You can also imagine what it's like to live next to a restaurant like this - you see smoke in your home, your fire alarms go off and disrupt your home life, your family heirlooms and personal belongings get covered in grease, and you constantly smell like cheeseburgers. I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like much fun to me, and Rev. Evans and his 500+ church member don't like it either.

The Commoner is aware that any act of combustion (smoking, lighting wood-fired ovens, burning candles, etc.) causes particles (an EPA monitored pollutant) to be released into the air. Fine particles are too small to be seen by the naked eye, cannot be coughed out and are subsequently released into the bloodstream; therefore causing serious adverse health effects. Fine particles are linked to asthma, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, autism, and more. The exhaust from this restaurant directly throws an unsafe amount of fine particles into the Church and the surrounding area.

As a result, the Church's organ is covered in soot, does not function properly, and will cost about $10,000 to clean. The Church's employees watch smoke flood the inside of their building (including their place of worship), go home smelling like wood smoke, and have been prescribed inhalers due to the amount of fine particles that they inhale from the restaurant's pollution. In addition, the Church's basement (heated via forced air) hosts Sunday School programs for K-12 children, and children have been coughing more than normal due to the increased amount of air pollution from the restaurant. If you have not yet read about the adverse health effects of fine particles on children, check out this, or this, or this, or this, or the hundreds of other articles via a simple google search.

The Hotel Monaco, awarded for Excellence in Historic Preservation, is ironically now ruining it's own historical exterior and the exterior of the historical landmark right next door, the First English Evangelical Lutheran Church. Remember how the Commoner promotes hand-smoked meats, an homage to the Steel City's industrial past, and a love for local which extends to their menu? From my perspective, those hand-smoked meats produce pollution that is not correctly filtered and the only homage to our Steel City's industrial past are the 2 soot-covered buildings that remind me of Pittsburgh in the 1940's. So what about the love for local? Deposits of air pollution directly cause soil pollution. Do you want to eat local food that has been polluted with air contaminates?

Now, despite the obvious negative health effects of the Church members and staff, The Commoner is fighting off any legal punishment. No fines have been paid. No law has been enforced. No member of Mayor Peduto's office has responded to this, despite multiple attempts.

I haven't visited The Commoner to comment on the quality of the food, and I will not be patronizing anytime soon. The Commoner is breaking the law, ruining historical buildings, and directly jeopardizing people's health without punishment. There are now 3 Specks sitting in the Church and the readings jump when the restaurant exhaust is turned on. I don't like hearing that we have to "wait for the law to be enforced." My hope is that with Speck and a strong safety advocacy community behind us, Pittsburgh will not continue to experience profit > planet.

Sara, Airviz Inc.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Speck Sensor SXSW 2015 Talk: Illah Nourbakhsh Discusses Home Air Monitor

Did you know that Speck was announced at South by Southwest?

Speck is a product of Airviz Inc., which is a spinoff from the CREATE Lab at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute. Speck is manufactured under license from Carnegie Mellon University. Our goal is to empower everyday citizens to improve the air they breathe.

Watch Carnegie Mellon University professor, Illah Nourbakhsh's talk about air quality and home monitoring.

To learn more about CMU's CREATE Lab, visit

Speck Featured on NPR

Speck was featured on NPR as a device available through Pittsburgh's Carnegie Library system to reduce air quality in homes.

From the middle of the article: "Horchner's family is amused by his vigilance, but now his daughter, Christine, and wife, Nadine, are gathered around the kitchen table to see what the Speck monitor will reveal. Horchner guesses an optimistic 10 or lower. Nadine predicts the room will yield a reading of 30."

Check out the full article and audio file here: A Home Air Quality Monitor That Can Be Checked Out From The Library

More info about Speck:

We Believe In Technology Empowerment

To us, technology empowerment means enabling citizens to solve their own problems with a little bit of education. It could be working with children to teach them how to build robots, using wearable sensors to explore individual health, or (our favorite!) developing personal air quality monitors to understand your environment. To us, it is important to engage with communities at every stage of development - from idea to deployment.

Our goal with Speck is to empower everyday citizens and scientists with affordable environmental sensing and documentation instruments, and powerful visualization platforms for sense-making and sharing of gathered scientific data - to promote evidence based decision making, public discourse and action.

We hope that you will use Speck to make your home safer for your children, to find whether you are vacuuming with the right type of vacuum, whether the cooking oil you are using is making a disaster of air pollution in your kitchen, or whether the kitchen hood extractor is venting the air outside or spitting dirty air back into your house. Speck gives you real time feedback for the air quality in your home, and makes the invisible visible by revealing the number of fine particulates in your home.

Speck also serves as an effective tool to see air quality trends that are happening over the course of days, months, or years in your house. The data that Speck collects reports directly to the cloud, which allows you to view your data from your phone, tablet, or computer. And now, you can view your Speck data on the Speck app, which can be downloaded from Google Play or the Apple store. You are the owner of your data, and you decide who to share it with - that, to us, is thinking about empowerment in a better way.

We are very excited that so many of you have decided to be part of our air quality community! Please continue to engage with us by following us on twitter and facebook and emailing us with your air quality stories!

For more information on technology empowerment and Speck, visit

Thursday, September 10, 2015

5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve Your Indoor Air Quality - And Then Test it with Speck!

Did you know that indoor pollutant levels can rise up to 100 times higher than outdoor levels? Between work, school, and home, we spend up to 90% of our lives indoors, and yet, many people still believe that we cannot control indoor air quality. Here are 5 steps you can take now to help you breathe easier.

  1. Eliminate or minimize the use of harsh cleaners, solvent-based cleaners, or cleaners with strong fragrances. Many of us associate a lemony or piney scent with a clean kitchen, but those synthetic fragrances emit tons of chemicals into the air! And the best part... you will not find their names on the product labels! The only word you will see is “fragrance.” Next time you clean, use your Speck to track the number of particles that are released into the air when you spray that pine-scented cleaner, then compare those numbers to an all-natural cleaner.
  2. Protect the floors of your entryways by placing a large doormat in front of every entry point. The best kind of dirt is the kind that doesn’t enter your house! Shoes carry all kinds of dust, dirt, and pesticides, and you can keep most of it outside with a large doormat. Be sure that your guests wipe both feet on the outdoor mat before entering. For maintenance, give your doormat a good cleaning once per week.
  3. Carpet, and pillows, and bedsheets - oh my! Carpets can trap pollutants like dust mites, pet dander, dirt, and fine particle pollution. Frequent vacuuming and deep cleaning of your carpet can help limit and remove contaminates. Be sure to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter that will remove allergens instead of kicking them back into your air. Wash pillows, sheets, and comforters weekly to reduce indoor allergens when you sleep.
  4. Dog days are over. Pet allergens are lightweight and small, and can stay suspended in the air for long periods of time. They can also easily get stuck to furniture, bedding, or other fabrics. Bathe or groom your pets regularly, and keep them out of bedrooms if possible.
  5. Nature’s lungs! All indoors plants are able to purify indoor air through their normal photosynthesis processes. And an added bonus - they are easy to care for, and nice to look at!

For more information or to purchase a Speck, visit

Saturday, August 1, 2015

New Home InSPECKtion

by Beatrice Dias, Team Speck

As with most people, my husband and I were really excited about buying our first house.

We did all the usual checks – structural engineering, location, school district, bus access, aesthetics, etc. But we never thought to check on anything related to air quality. Using the Speck in our home really opened our eyes to the invisible space we lived and breathed in each day. Fortunately, our home is located in a neighborhood that enjoys relatively good air quality on most days. In addition, we have central heating/cooling, which certainly helps maintain good air quality in our home. The major issue we had though was our kitchen.

As I learned more about indoor air quality, I came across a useful resource related to ventilating your home during cooking. A range hood was recommended and I thought “Yes – I have one of those!” But my happy bubble was burst pretty quickly. First, I realized I actually only have an over-the-range microwave, rather than a standalone range hood. On top of that, after using the Speck in our home I learned that just turning our vent on, even without cooking, produced a bunch of fine particles. Why? Well, probably because I had not cleaned the grease traps in over five years – yuck! And the ultimate blow was discovering that even with cleaning, our vent was still ineffective at ventilating the house.
By moving the Speck around, I was able to trace the trajectory of cooking emissions from the kitchen, all the way up the stairs and into our child’s bedroom – yikes!
So, clearly our microwave hood did NOT vent to the outdoors and was essentially useless.

Although this was distressing news we didn’t give up there. Instead, we used the Speck to figure out what alternative ventilation methods we could use for our home. After some trial and error, we worked out a combination of opening the basement door plus kitchen window, and adding a window exhaust fan in the kitchen. This did the trick!

Now I breathe easier when I fry those yummy onions or indulge in some fried chicken :-) Come winter, of course, we’ll need to devise a new ventilation strategy, but I am pretty confident we can figure something out, now that we can see the invisible world around us through Speck!