Technology
The Quest to Build a Simple Air Quality Monitor

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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.

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

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