Happy Earth Day! #earthday2016 is a global event marking the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. On this day, we would like to update you on your order of the TZOA wearable pollution monitor, plus share our journey and recent experiences with the TZOA Research Device (RD02).
In 2014, TZOA aimed to create a miniature, low-cost, accurate air quality sensor for detecting harmful particles in the air known as Particulate Matter (PM2.5) that would sense fine particles 2.5 microns in size and smaller that can enter into the lungs and cause irreversible damage. PM2.5 has emerged as the most harmful type of pollution for human health as cited by the EPA and WHO; it affects people with respiratory conditions, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders.
Our Mission Has Traction
We are driven to create better environments for humanity and help people thrive, so our team of full-time engineers and passionate entrepreneurs were inspired to create something that the average person could afford to buy, bring anywhere, and understand their immediate air quality in real-time. We brought you the enviro-tracker in our Indiegogo campaign, and after proving the design was real, the wearable device received innovation awards from Time Magazine, Popular Science, and PCMagazine.
Solving a Pain Point
At this time in 2015 we were thrilled, also because we were being contacted by some of the largest and most credible research institutions in the world. No one had seen a PM2.5 sensor this small before and the wearable form factor proved without a doubt that there was a custom proprietary sensor behind the scenes. The state of low-cost monitoring technologies was bleak and the accuracy was proving poor. Many devices claiming PM2.5 detection use one of two off-the-shelf sensors manufactured in China (Shinyei, Sharp), so testing a new sensor was on the top of everyone's mind.
Our First Product
Before our Indiegogo campaign even ended, we began to pre-order an 'alpha' product we called the Research Device (RD02), which was just the wearable sensor in a bigger enclosure with a large battery and high quality components that didn't take power conservation into consideration. We did a limited run (<200 units) of RD02 devices and selectively sold them to customers who would evaluate the sensor or add value. After a number of delays due to bad component vendors and a relatively small amount of resources, we fulfilled on all of our orders between January and March 2016.
The first research results came back to us from Utah, where a couple of groups including the University of Utah conducted sensor evaluations. This specific test was the hardest one imaginable, the TZOA RD02 was tested against a Thermo Scientific TEOM-1405, which is the regarded as the 'gold standard' of reference devices endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and costs upwards of $40,000. The results showed that we correlated with an R^2 of 0.964, in other words, RD02 proved to be 96.4% accurate:
We also had many devices sent back which didn't respond well to swinging environmental conditions, especially outdoors. A few had been deployed outdoors in winter's freezing night-time temperatures and the devices didn't work properly afterwards. Fortunately we know exactly what components, materials, and design considerations are needed to overcome those challenges, we've also identified a number of huge improvements that will yield:
- operation under dynamic environmental conditions
- consistently great sensor performance (both sensitivity and accuracy)
- particle sizing (IE small diesel particle vs. a large pollen particle)
- longer lifetime of product
- less chance of contamination from pollutants
Using Our Learnings
The portable RD02 unit was $600 and often plugged into an external power source or used the large capacity battery; meanwhile, the wearable is a $139 device that is extremely low-power. It's important that the next sensor version we build benefits from all of the learnings of the RD02. We have identified several key electrical and optical components that are coming on the market soon, which will help close the performance, size, and cost gap to make the wearable as good (or better) than we had originally promised.
The RD02 is the smallest portable PM2.5 product on the market. By making the improvements outlined above we now have an opportunity to release the most advanced portable PM2.5 product on the market, one that is extremely high performance and can warn you about harmful pollution. We would call it RD03 and besides particle pollution we would add a VOC sensor to detect volatile chemicals in the air. It would work whether you set it up outdoors, inside your home, at work, or in your car.
Software-wise we've built the first version of the iOS and Android app, initially for the researchers, which we are submitting on the app stores soon. So what about the wearable? Due to delays, new components hitting the market soon, and an important sensor design iteration, we believe moving to the RD03 now instead of the wearable is our best option.
What about your order? We will send all of our enviro-tracker customers and Indiegogo backers the more expensive RD03 for free, followed by the wearable you ordered when it is available, a 2-for-1 deal. We want you to have the TZOA technology in your hands as soon as possible and keep working towards an uncompromising vision for the wearable. We can accomplish that by giving each of you an RD03; a world-class wifi-enabled air quality monitor. You'll understand pollution levels and sources in your communities/homes so action can be taken. RD03 can do that with great consistency and performance and we want you to be involved as our beta-testers.
Our ambitious goal is to implement our sensor design improvements, implement the new features, and have an RD03 in everyone's hands in less than 6 months. This means a short R&D engineering phase, design and development, followed by manufacturing and fulfillment; a process we've already been through and know well.
We plan on doing everything with the RD03 that we had intended with the wearable, including creating a real-time map of pollution across your city and launching an exciting citizen science data collection initiative. You can even use an external battery pack to bring the RD03 with you. RD03 will be friendly with the wearable in the ecosystem we are creating and, not to sound too much like Tesla, but there are more product and feature announcements coming soon!
We are committed to being more communicative moving forward with product progress. When turmoil and big decisions like this need to be made, it forces hesitance into what we can say with certainty. We appreciate your patience and commitment to a clean air future.
We hope you can appreciate our transparency and honesty. Please write a comment below and we will respond promptly!
Best, Kevin R. Hart and the TZOA team.