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When I asked Bernie War how he liked living in Shanghai, the Miami native said he liked everything about it, except the air. He’s been there for three years. First, he started work on an open source air purifier. Then, he looked at building an air quality monitor. His most recent project, the Ella Assistant, does neither of those things, but is intended to act as a simplified interface that helps a person act on data about air quality or weather. “It’s a little assistant that you can connect to anything you want,” said War. “And it’s fully software hackable.”

War, whom I met at Maker Faire Shenzhen, was in San Francisco recently and stopped by the Maker Media Lab. He showed me the Ella Assistant and talked about why he developed it:

“Air quality is really scary. Oftentimes, it is hard to understand what does that information mean. AQI (Air Quality Index) can be abstract. We wanted to develop something that provides you with a simple suggestion, such as you should wear a mask, you should close your windows, or you should run or not.”

featuresWar wanted to build an information interface that was independent of a smartphone. He thinks that you could put the Ella Assistant on the countertop or mount it on a wall so it can remind you of the right action to take.

He told me: “This product and my energy for making stuff would not have been possible without going to the Maker Faire in Shenzhen.” He was invited to participate by David Li, who runs the first makerspace in Shanghai. He brought his open source air purifier. “It was a very big deal, it was incredible,” he said. “I met a lot of great people from around the world, and it gave me the passion and the inspiration to try to do something that was real. Something that was different, Something that was helpful. Something that was tangible, because a lot of things aren’t anymore.”

War plans to do a Kickstarter soon for the Ella Assistant.