Sarita Ahlawat holds up her startup Living Sciences’ air quality monitor against a cold, grey December sky. Its PM 10 reading—particulate matter measured in micrograms—flickers before settling on 263. As we carry it out of her office, to the foyer, and then to the balcony, the reading fluctuates, before it finally settles at 313. According to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), we’re breathing in “very poor” air. 

“Ideally, we shouldn’t even be sitting in this room,” she says. All around her are students who help her manufacture and collect data from low-cost air quality monitors.

Ahlawat and her team have installed 30 monitors across Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology, but want to hit 100 in the coming months. “We don’t realise how pollution levels change even with a 300-acre campus,” she says.

The Living Sciences air quality monitors sell for $10-$15, their demand increasing faster than Ahlawat and her team can make them. “Corporates even give them away as gifts,” she says. By the end of 2019, Living Sciences will rake in Rs 50 lakh ($70,262) from the sales. Not bad for a two-year-old startup. 

The demand is driven by the lack of hyperlocal data that can accurately measure where, and why, air quality has dipped. And this in a country that is home to 14 of the 15 most polluted cities in the world. “Hyperlocal data can help identify and deal with hotspots such as parking lots, where loose dust needs to be controlled. Even simple things like knowing when not to work out in the open is beneficial,” says Ahlawat. 

At a national level, the recommended density for air pollution monitors, as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), is 4 per 100,000 people. CPCB also claims India needs 4,000 official monitors to get an accurate representation of air quality. 

The current count? 793.

A new wave of engineers, academics and electronic equipment makers such as AMBEE, Kaiterra, and AirVeda are now trying to plug these gaps. They provide low-cost, personalised air quality monitors, ranging from as little as Rs 2,000 ($28) right up to Rs 10,000 ($141) on Amazon. Schools, offices, residential highrises all use a network of these monitors to track indoor air quality. The monitors even come with a personalised air quality dashboard, connected to an app. In addition to selling hardware, startups like AMBEE are now also engaged in analysing and predicting the Air Quality Index (AQI) of unmonitored places.

Growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.6% globally, the nascent air monitoring market will be worth approximately $5.5 billion by 2024, according to a market research report. The market includes all types of monitoring equipment, but continuous and indoor air monitoring systems have the largest share. 

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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