Even the ancient art of Feng Shui recognises the benefit of good fresh air flowing around a home, so in the smart home era, surely everyone should know just how good their air quality is.
Enter the Foobot indoor air quality monitor. This white, vented, box is plugged in somewhere around the home and left to monitor the air quality.
With people around the world worried about pollutants, they can now check via their smartphone app just how good their air quality is. They can also monitor longer term trends, which might be useful if new businesses are starting up around the area, or for people who live close to industrial or power plants.
However, be aware that this is a low-cost $199 (check this listing for the latest live prices) consumer grade product, not the sort of device municipal areas use to measure pollutants, so it won’t give you many answers to specific environmental or medical conditions.
That said, let’s see what the Foobot can do.
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Key Features of the Foobot
Judging by the poor English on the product site and material, we’re guessing this is a French company, so please allow for some quirky use of language if you get one. In fact the parent company, AirBoxLab is based in Paris, and their Foobot arrives after two years of research and design.
The Foobot measures total volatile organic compounds (VOC), carbon dioxide (CO2), particulate pollution (PM2.5), along with temperature and humidity to produce a combined Air Quality index.
It can help alert the user when it is time to get some fresh air, or to shut the windows. It can use pattern recognition to track pollution, and encourage people to change their behavior to limit the use of chemicals in the home.
It does all of that just by sitting around your home sniffing the air via a range of sensors, and using the power of the cloud to crunch the numbers. Set up is easy, plug it in and install the iOS or Android app. Connect it to your WiFi by turning it upside down and entering the WiFi details via the app.
A blue light on the box shows all is well, an orange light suggests there is an issue with your air quality and you can find out what the problem is via the app, and what to do about it. The leading statistic is the Global Pollution Index, which acts an overview of the overall quality of your air.
Pros of the Foobot
- Easy to Set Up: As a consumer product, the Foobot is pretty easy to set up, turn it on, create an account and off you go. But you are left wondering what all the flashing lights mean, and what the difference would be if something goes wrong, the instructions aren’t hugely helpful. Beyond that, once up and running you can easily see how your local air quality is via the box and coming along over time through the app graphs.
- Decent App: The app is very pretty to look at with an overall snapshot of the air conditions and graphs showing the rise and fall of pollutants. A few basic Q&As can help narrow down some sources, but it doesn’t yet do much beyond that for the user.
- Measures AND Alerts: As a home or school science project the results from the Foobot could be interesting, and they can be extracted from the data using some smart home hacking. Foobot does not only measure the pollution, it uses artificial intelligence to warn you before domestic pollution may rise, and can help build models that if used widely could help societies benefit, although we’re not sure if the company is sharing data.
Cons of the Foobot
- Not All That Revolutionary: The Foobot isn’t cheap, but it isn’t exactly packed full of cutting edge science either. The CO2 and carbon monoxide is not measured by a CO2 sensor but by a conversion and cross sensitivity from the tVOC reading, so won’t be as accurate as a real sensor’s reading.
- Odd Light Reading System: This is part of the issue with the product, the readings are generalized and the advice so generic that it doesn’t really help, but it might make people feel better, or worse depending on the light color. Is that really helping? Short of moving to the mountains of Switzerland, most of us are stuck with the air we have.
- Overpriced? What can you practically do about any orange light situations? Well some home chemicals and cleaners can set it off, fires and candles can add to the smoke, and we really don’t need a $200 box to tell us these are potential hazards.
- App Needs Some Improvement: Additionally, as with many smaller company smart home products, the app isn’t great, being slow and sometimes buggy. Hopefully this will improve over time, at least the app gets regular updates. The Foobot as a concept is great but needs refining.
This space is quickly heating up. Another competitor to look at (that I’ve reviewed here) is the Elgato Eve Sensor. It’s somewhat less ambitious, but seems to deliver on what it promises a bit better.
“We love the idea of the Foobot, but the practicalities and results suggest that this might calm some users and panic others, depending on their nature.”
In some countries where pollution is regularly dangerous like China, then we can see an immediate benefit, but short of donning those filter masks, again it can’t do much to help, and the local government is well on top of issuing those kind of warnings.
If you live somewhere close to pollution sources, or perhaps are worried about them, then the Foobot can help make a difference, but given most of these things smell, the Mk. 1 human nostril could probably do just as good a job.
Hopefully the AirBoxLab company’s next product would be something really stellar that can make more of a difference, perhaps triangulating local polluters, or showing true pollution patterns, but for now this feels like rather an early test. That said, do let us know if it helps make a difference in your area.