Are y’all sick of me writing about air quality yet? I view the monitoring of indoor air quality and management of in-home energy as the two biggest trends to emerge from the last year or so, so I’m very focused on them these days. To that end, this week I met a startup called Piera Systems, which combines air quality monitoring with a specially designed chip in a way that could bring better and more granular information to users.
Piera makes an air quality sensor, but at the heart of that sensor is a newly designed custom chip that provides a lot more processing power than traditional chips used on sensors to analyze the particulates that any air quality sensor must monitor. The company’s CEO is hoping that the ability to more accurately measure particles will give Piera an advantage over the existing sensors on the market today.
The chip adds computing power to analyze the behavior of particulates and count exactly how many are in a sample, and at more sizes. It performs at the level of much more expensive sensors that actually track the mass of particulate matter in a cubic meter of air. However, the Piera sensor form factor is similar to — and works much like — the traditional low-cost sensors that use a laser to measure particulate matter as it traverses a small optical sensor.
So where a traditional low-cost sensor from a company such as Sensirion might count just PM2.5 particles and only estimate particulate matter at sizes both smaller and larger than that, the Peira chip can count particles that are PM0.1 PM2.5, PM10, etc. Most sensors take the PM2.5 measurement because that’s what the EPA uses for counting air pollution.
In addition to measuring particulate matter of varying sizes, Piera can analyze how particulates generated by certain types of air pollution behave. CEO Vin Ratford told me the sensor can tell the difference between cigarette smoke and vaping, for example, and even if someone is cooking chicken or salmon, all based on how the particles behave in the air.
I asked for third-party verification of those claims, and Ratford said the company is working with researchers to validate its algorithms. In the meantime, he said potential customers have tested the company’s sensors and seen enormous potential in the ability to differentiate between pollutants.
Like other companies that have built a novel chip, Piera has decided to package the ASIC into a product. That product is an air quality monitor called Canāree (pronounced Canary); it comes in three variations ranging in price from $199.99 to $299.99. The most expensive option measures particulate matter as well as temperature, humidity, pressure, and volatile organic compounds. The sensors are USB-powered and designed to plug into wireless access points for enterprise or industrial monitoring. Ratford told me a consumer version will be available within weeks.
Piera also sells its sensors to companies to integrate into their own products. It has several companies testing the device, but can’t share customer wins at the moment. In the meantime, it’s working with Aruba, Cisco, and Enocean to provide its sensors as part of those companies’ various IoT ecosystems.
Ratford said he believes that having air quality monitors set farther away from purifiers is a better practice because the air around an air purifier is likely cleaner. Additionally, if the air purifier is far away from the source of pollution an integrated sensor may take longer to register pollution and turn the purifier on.
This makes sense, but until we get some form of communication standard between monitors and purifiers, I like the convenience of having one device track and then clean my air. Given how much focus there is on air quality, especially in light of COVID, Piera is likely to find lots of interest in its product.