How China’s smog is boosting tech startups

Beijing municipal government last week issued an orange alert for air pollution, ordering schools and kindergartens to cancel all outdoors activities for students. Air pollution, mainly in the form of smog, remains a threat to health in China, even though authorities have made efforts to tackle it.

For common people in the city, checking the air quality on a smartphone app has already become a routine before they go outside. If the app informs them of unhealthy air conditions, people know to put on a mask, especially as the capital city enters winter and smog becomes more common.

For some startups, widespread air pollution means a big market to tap into.

Beijing-based AirVisual provides users with the most effective air quality information via an online world pollution map, AirVisual Earth, as well as the AirVisual air quality app. Its founder and CEO, Yann Boquillod, believes providing the information will grow awareness among its users worldwide.

”We made the 3D world pollution map using different data points: weather data, pollution sources, and satellite data. We want to make it very visual for the people to understand the health of the earth,” he said.

Screenshot of AirVisual Earth.
Screenshot of AirVisual Earth.

The company, which was founded last year, was among the first ones to release an air pollution forecast app in 2015, using a big data and machine learning approach. AirVisualcollects air quality data in three approaches.

In China, where sharing non-official data is illegal, AirVisual uses data provided by local government and other organizations, including foreign embassies in the country. In other countries, the crowd-sourced enterprise encourages users to put in data.

Another source of data is the company’s air monitor instruments, Node, bought by governments and individuals. AirVisual sets the price of the consumer version Node at USD 199. For enterprises, it offers a management system in addition to the instruments. The company has 8,000 stations across the world that provide local air quality data.

Node. Photo from AirVisual.
Node. Photo from AirVisual.

In the air quality data field, AirVisual competes in China with Moji – meaning ink marks in Chinese – the country’s largest weather app by user number. Moji claims to have more than 500 million registered users.

Moji also produces its own air monitor, AIRNUT, priced it at RMB 999 (USD 144).

AIRNUT. Photo from Moji.
AIRNUT. Photo from Moji.

AllChinaTech in March reported on the AQI monitor Laser Egg, which was sold in Apple Stores across China. The company claimed its air monitor reaches the best balance for quality and price.

According to public data, during 2015, Beijing’s air quality was below the national standard for half of all the recorded days. It’s not clear how many years it will take before we can consistently enjoy healthy air, but at least these startups will help us protect ourselves from the smog.

“China’s air conditions will be better in the long term, although there will be ups and downs in the short term,” said Boquillod.

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

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