Review: SPARROW W500

We have discussed a lot of times how air pollution can affect human health in the long-term. However, there is one pollutant that can have a severe impact on our health even in small concentrations in the short-term: Carbon Monoxide (CO).

Carbon Monoxide is a colourless, odourless toxic gas. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common type of fatal air poisoning in many countries around the world because it is hard to detect with our senses and it is classified as highly toxic.

About half of the carbon monoxide in Earth’s atmosphere is anthropogenic from the burning of fossil fuels (diesel and gasoline), oil, paraffin, propane, natural gas, trash, and biomass.

Here comes SPARROW W500 Air Quality Monitor by ECO SENSORS, a small portable monitor that can follow you anywhere. It is designed to alert you when high CO concentrations are present.

Hardware

  • Carbon Monoxide Sensor by SPEC Sensors
  • Humidity Sensor
  • Temperature Sensor
  • Alarm (audible buzzer)
  • Multicolour LED Light
  • Bluetooth Connection
  • Micro-USB port

SPARROW is super small  5.6cm x 3.3cm x 1cm and super light as it weighs 18g/0.03 lbs. You can pair it with a smartphone (iOS and Android) but also it can operate on its own as the buzzer and the Yellow/Red/Purple LED light can notify you when there are significant CO concentrations around. When the CO concentrations are safe the Green LED light will always flash once per second, except when charging, after all it can inform you about the CO concentrations without the need to launch the app or take your phone into your hands.

The battery will last 2 plus weeks, which is great for those who don’t want to charge one more device every day or so. I have set it with a 1 minute data log rate. The device has a button that you need to press every-time you want to connect it with the phone, that way the Bluetooth connection is established at the moment, otherwise the SPARROW would have to be in a mode where it was always broadcasting for Bluetooth signal, which is a huge power drain for both devices, phone and the air quality monitor.

Fortunately, my house is CO free as I don’t burn anything but we all travel and for those with a garage it is a mandatory device to have. In the picture below you can see the device inside a closed jar with smoke from a burning match as I wanted to stimulate the sensor and simulate the CO concentrations. I must say the CO sensor is a lot more stable and cross-sensitivity proof which means other gases won’t affect the measurements.

SPARROW_Jar CO

SPARROW comes with a carabiner clip but there is an option to attach it on the back of a phone case with a special mount system the case maker OtterBox has developed and they support many cases for iOS, Android phone, and tablets.

SPARROW Animation Case

The App

Visually, the app is not pretty but it does the job. There are a lot of options to tweak and to adjust the app and device to your needs but it lacks a better user experience UX though a better user interface UI. Of course, this is something that can be fixed with future app updates.

You can share the measurements (data Log file) via email which is a neat feature but they go a step further and you can connect the device with the micro-USB cable to your computer and enable direct communication, however, this is an advanced feature.

The app allows you to select different data log rates between 1 second / 10 seconds / 1 minute / 10 minutes / 1 hour / 1 day. There is another cool option to enable if you want  the device not to keep low CO concentrations in the log file, that way you don’t have a huge  amount of data entries to process later on, like in my case.

Literally, you can customise the device to your needs even by changing the Sensitivity mode for different thresholds. You can measure in parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m³). You can set up emergency messaging by allowing SPARROW app to send messages to emergency contacts when very high concentrations are detected.

Premium mobile phone screen mockup template

 

Conclusion

Breathing CO can cause a series of health issues. Unknowingly, exposure to moderate levels of CO over long periods of time has also been linked with an increased risk of heart disease. If your environment is surrounded by vehicles (suitable for #VanLife) or other sources of burning fossil fuels then having such a device that can guard your health is worth investing in. SPARROW W500 is one of them.

uHoo – Virus Index (Update)

Some of you have contacted me because you wanted to know my opinion on uHoo’s latest update. Since June 2020, uHoo has implemented a Virus Index which is a patent-pending technology that uses the power of air quality data to help you know how suitable your close environment is for a virus to survive and spread.

uHoo is an air quality monitor that features nine environmental and pollution sensors. If you want to learn more, read my review here.

uhoo app 2020 virus index

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Review: Node-S by Clarity

I love clean air and even when we are indoors the air we breathe comes from the outdoor environment, like streets, small neighborhoods, city superblocks, etc. There are high probabilities that you, the reader, live in a city and the air you breathe isn’t clean enough to support your healthy lifestyle.

Most cities in Europe, as far as I know, have two state reference stations (a background and an urban) for air quality monitoring. They are great, with highly accurate and expensive equipments inside. Unfortunately, most of the time they are old and outdated which limit their ability to engage people to look into the air quality problems we are facing.

My city hosts around 200,000 people and the one urban reference stations we have isn’t capable of measuring PM2.5, at least not as most people will expect. It registers ONE daily average PM2.5 measurement (and not always). Data are free but in order to get these daily measurements you need to file a form and wait a month as manually a lab examines the filters were PM2.5 particles are captured.

Of course this is a tedious way to report data in 2020 at least in my opinion, I understand the “accuracy” obsession that surrounds some scientists, they can keep doing that but also they need to report real-time data to citizens if they want them to change the way they think and behave. I mean, what can I do if I learn that the air was dirty a month ago?

Here comes a outdoor monitor like Clarity Node-S. In my opinion, cities have no excuse not to install such monitors around the city and allow citizens to see the air they breathe. Literally, it is so easy to pick a place in a city and install a monitor. Clarity takes advantage of the low-cost sensors and has developed a solution hard to resist.

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Low-Cost Portable Monitors vs Reference Monitors Part1

I managed to grant permission from the local authorities (Junta de Andalucia) here in my city Almeria to place two low-cost monitors among the reference instruments in order to determine whether the two consumer products could offer fair readings to the users.

After filing some paperwork and the help of the responsible people in my city, they granted me access to the reference Monitor ES1393A (Mediterráneo) that complies with all EU standards. It is a quite powerful station as it is equipped with many expensive instruments (figure 1) which measure many types of pollutants, such as Nitrogen Oxide (NO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), ground-level Ozone (O3), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), PM10, PM2.5 and many more.

The portable consumer-grade monitors that I placed in the reference AQ station were the Atmotube Pro and the Flow 2. Of course, I placed them outside the station and I attached them to the PM2.5 beta attenuation monitor air inlet (as you can see in figure 2) because I wanted to ensure the greatest PM2.5 correlation possible.

A beta attenuation monitor (BAM) is a universally used air monitoring technique that employs the absorption of beta radiation by solid particles extracted from airflow. This technique allows for the precise detection of PM2.5 without humidity affecting the results (a common problem for the laser scattering sensors). However, there are some drawbacks, for instance, it doesn’t provide data in real-time and it takes only a few measurements in an hour.

 

The portable monitors took measurements continuously for three and a half days with an interval of 1 minute between each measurement. The reference monitors took measurements every 10 minutes, so the data from the reference monitor are not as dense as from the Atmotube and Flow but are much more accurate and even without the same density we will be able to get a good idea of what is going on.

Before presenting the results from this comparison, I would like to mention that my measurements cannot be taken as a “de facto”. In order to determine the real correlation of a monitor or a sensor, you need at least 3 units and various days to months of data. Maybe some other units from both parties, PlumeLabs and Atmotube, may give different results. The climate also affects the performance of the sensors, so a different geographical location can give us different results.

Nitrogen Dioxide

Let’s begin with the comparison of the NO2 gas sensor inside the Flow 2 and the reference monitor Teledyne Model 200E. The official measurements were in μg/m3 so I had to convert them into parts per billion (ppb). Converting the original values to ppb is not an easy task as you have to know the molecular weight of the pollutants (NO2=46.0055g/mol) and most importantly the temperature and atmospheric pressure at the time each value was taken, the problem was that they didn’t provide me with that data and I didn’t have them either. As a result, I looked them up and the average values were 15°C/59°F and 1019hPa, so to simplify my workflow I used those numbers in the formula for all the conversions. I know, I know, the data from the reference monitor are not 100% correct now but they are very close so they will do the trick.

NO2 Flow Reference Monitor correlation
Green: Teledyne Model 200E | Yellow: Flow 2

As you can see in the graph above there are quite many similarities in the trajectory of the lines. I was quite surprised and happy to be honest. You can clearly see how the low-cost sensor keeps getting exited from the pollutant(s) for a longer time but it was able to follow the official measurements. Keep that in mind, the official monitor Teledyne Model 200E worths around 8,000€ and Flow worths 159€.

Particulate Matter

Let’s continue our comparison with the Particulate Matter sensors from Atmotube Pro and Flow 2. Firstly, let’s see the PM10 measurements as the reference monitor Met One Instrument BAM 1020 (~18,000€) only provided the PM10 concentrations. The air inlet for the PM10 was about a meter away from where the 2 portable AQ monitors were placed and this is one of the reasons we can see that the concentrations from the BAM 1020 were much higher than the low-cost sensors.

Reference monitor BAM 1020 and low cost sensors Flow Atmotube
Green: BAM 1020 | Blue: Atmotube Pro | Yellow: Flow 2

Atmotube was able to follow the same trajectory as the BAM 1020 and when I multiply by x3.0 the output concentrations of the Atmotube the trend was much more similar (see graph below). On the other hand, Flow 2 was not able to keep up with the reference monitor. Flow’s (Yellow) line does not follow the reference monitor and I was unable to find any correlation.

atmotube PRO reference monitor BAM 1020
Red: Atmotube Pro with amplified x3 PM10 output.

As the BAM PM2.5 measurements are being analysed in a lab right now in order to ensure accuracy by the state I will compare the result in a different post. They gave me an estimation of about a month.

Conclusion

It gives you a level of confidence to know that the little AQ monitor that you carry with you is able to reveal the truth about the air you breathe. Although the results are not perfect they can provide some general guidelines to the users.

Stay tuned for the final PM2.5 comparison, will Flow 2 have better PM2.5 measurements and will Atmotube Pro keep up?

Flow 2 vs Atmotube Pro Preliminary Comparison

I love portable devices and miniaturisation is a thing of the future. In this post, I am going to compare Flow 2 and Atmotube Pro side by side. Both devices are two portable Air Quality Monitors that can easily be carried around and help you see the air you breathe.

This is a preliminary test and I will compare the devices between each other. I have promised you an extensive comparison between the portable monitors and an official reference station, however, it will take a bit longer in order to sort things out with the local AQ department − paperwork which needs time from their end.

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Review: Flow 2 by Plume Labs

I was given the chance to review the brand new Flow 2 by Plume Labs and I took the opportunity to review it on my trip to Athens, Greece while visiting my family. Flow 2 is a small handheld AQ monitor that can follow you almost anywhere through the day and it tracks Particulate Matter, Nitrogen Dioxide and VOCs.

athens air pollution hotspots

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Experiment: Cooking Pollution

I am sure you all have heard that we spend 90% of our time indoors, as a result we have to create a healthy environment if we want to stay healthy and strong. Although I am very tired of hearing this expression, it is true, most of us spend that 90% indoors but not only inside our house. Inside our houses we spend about 60% of our time, cooking, cleaning, sleeping/resting, having fun with our loved ones and reading.

In this experiment, I want to demonstrate what academic studies have already proved that when we cook we deteriorate the air quality inside our house. Remember we eat at least twice a day and probably we have to cook twice a day as well.

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Review: Laser Egg + CO2

I was given the opportunity to review the brand new Laser Egg + CO2 monitor which is a new addition into the family of Kaiterra domestic air quality monitors.

This product is designed for those who work or stay lots of hours indoors and pay attention to how Carbon Dioxide CO2 can decrease our cognitive ability. The correlation between CO2 and productivity has been studied a lot for over 50 years by many academics.

Interesting facts, surprisingly, the design standard for CO2 levels in most buildings is 1000ppm but the recommended concentration is below 700ppm. In one of the studies, Harvard researchers have found significant negative impact at 930 ppm.

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Review: Airthings Wave Plus

Finally,  an air quality monitor that focuses on Radon indoor pollution. Many of you have asked me to review an AQM with a radon sensor and the most famous of all the Airthings Wave which comes in various versions (Wave, Wave Plus). In this review, I am featuring the Airthings Wave Plus.

What is Radon?

For those who hear for the first time about Radon, it comes from the radioactive breakdown aka decay of naturally occurring Uranium found in most soils. As a gas in the soil, it enters buildings through small openings in the foundation. Since radon can easily be trapped inside buildings, indoor radon concentrations can increase to many times that of outdoor levels. When radon gas decays, it emits radioactive radiation in the form of an alpha particle/waves and Airthings Wave   can measure those alpha particles/waves. I don’t want to enter into details about the health effects on this post but Radon is found to be the second most common reason for lung cancer (after smoking).

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