Introducing the PiAQ

Recently, we’ve gotten a lot of buzz for a project we’re really excited about here in the labs – our PiAQ. It’s something we’re glad to see get attention, because we think it’s going to be a valuable tool to increase the quality of life for a lot of people.

The PiAQ is an indoor air quality sensor built to fit on a $35 credit-card sized computer called a Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pis are great for educational programs or for do-it-yourself projects like our sensor. The PiAQ uses that small computer to power air quality monitors, as well as run software (like our Rosetta Home, a home-monitoring software in development here in the lab) that can interpret and visualize what those monitors are tracking.

The Raspberry Pi provides a great platform for us to build upon, as it’s a trusted low-cost alternative to many of the commercial devices that exist in the Internet of Things space. Since the Pi is compatible with a variety of devices and can run many different types software, it’s the perfect candidate to start building up your smart home. There have been several Pi-based smart home DIY kits, including some with environmental sensors.

The goal for this project is to make information about the air people breathe more accessible. While the prevailing thought has been that outdoor air quality – especially in cities – is worse than indoor, did you know that the reverse can actually be true? In fact, the EPA estimates that indoor air quality can be two-to-five times worse than outdoors in some places, which is especially troubling considering we spent most of our time indoors.

As well as helping people monitor their own indoor air quality, we also built the PiAQ as a launching point for a larger project we’ve been working on: Rosetta Home 2.0. Rosetta Home is a whole-home automation system that will include indoor air quality sensing. By building on top of the Pi, we not only are able to use the Pi’s existing hardware and software, but we also bring the project forward into the Pi community at large. By opening the project up to this community, we get one of the largest groups of “beta-testers” possible; people who are passionate about technology and interested in helping us make the best sensor we can. To date, there have been over 10 million Raspberry Pi units sold.

At CRT Labs, we’re excited about what open-source hardware and software can do for emerging technologies. Currently, you can view our GitHub repository for the PiAQ (and our other projects) and download our hardware schematics and as well as our software. You can build your own PiAQ, or modify the software to your needs. It also allows you to help us debug the code, or find any flaws in our hardware. The more eyes we have on our projects, the quicker we can iterate them.

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It’s great that we have this community open to us, not just to create this product, but to allow us to use what we learn from the PiAQ to expand our indoor air quality sensing even further. We’re working on developing stand-alone sensors that can be networked together in order to give you a sense of the indoor air quality of your whole home. That stat above, where the EPA says your home’s air can be up to five times worse than outdoors, can affect your daily life. For example, NAR’s CTO was curious about his home’s air quality when his wife complained of frequent headaches. He brought home an indoor air quality (IAQ) sensor, and found out his home’s CO2 was above recommended levels. To counter this, he started opening the windows at night and running his whole-house fan and quickly after, his family’s headaches disappeared.

Our IAQs will measure not only CO2, but temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, light and sound intensity, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), CO, and NO2. Temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and light and sound intensity all contribute to your home’s comfort levels. When it’s too humid, you know to run a dehumidifier; if your baby can’t sleep, you can check the sound levels to see if maybe the party next door is louder than you thought. CO, CO2, and NO2 can actually cause short and long-term health effects. In the short-term, these pollutants can cause headaches, drowsiness, sinus issues, and light-headedness; in the long-term, they have serious consequences, especially when exposure lasts for hours at a time. If you know about what levels these gases occur within your home, you’re able to start mitigating them, like our CTO did when CO2 reached high levels in his house.

The PiAQ will be available to purchase starting in Q1 2017. We are looking for research partnerships; email us and tell us about your projects, and we can work together to see how the PiAQ can fit your needs.

The PiAQ is the exciting first step in beginning to create an ecosystem where the home’s health is monitored just like we monitor our own fitness. The FitBit got people talking about their own health – we now all know that 10,000 steps is a good goal to maintain our body’s fitness. Our goal is to get people talking about the home in the same way. We think about what we do in the lab in terms of our REALTOR® members’ code of ethics: “Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization.” We are striving to change how people think about their homes, and by making the home’s health a priority, we can help to positively impact everyone’s lives.

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