Innovation of the Week: Air-quality tracking device breathes new life into purifier market | Crain's

Innovation of the Week: Air-quality tracking device breathes new life into purifier market

  • Wynd Technologies initially made its portable air-purifier prototypes for use around infants after the baby of a team member developed several allergies. | Photo courtesy of Wynd Technologies, Inc.

    Wynd Technologies initially made its portable air-purifier prototypes for use around infants after the baby of a team member developed several allergies. | Photo courtesy of Wynd Technologies, Inc.

  • The Wynd air purifier (left) comes with the Air Quality Tracker sensing device, which can also be used separately. | Photo courtesy of Wynd Technologies, Inc.

    The Wynd air purifier (left) comes with the Air Quality Tracker sensing device, which can also be used separately. | Photo courtesy of Wynd Technologies, Inc.

  • The Wynd smart air purifier creates a "bubble" that some users find helpful to have bedside. | Photo courtesy of Wynd Technologies, Inc.

    The Wynd smart air purifier creates a "bubble" that some users find helpful to have bedside. | Photo courtesy of Wynd Technologies, Inc.

Many consumers concerned with healthy living like the idea of using purifiers to clear the air around them of harmful particulates. These devices are often thought of as large and bulky, but Redwood City, California–based Wynd Technologies, Inc., is working to make them more efficient and intelligent.

Startup Wynd has created its namesake water-bottle-sized smart purifier not only to be portable but also to be primed to offer users the ability to track the quality of the air they are breathing.

CEO Ray Wu, formerly an engineer for such companies as Bose and Broadcom, founded Wynd in 2014 after leaving a job to “build something of [his] own.”

Wu, an electrical engineering and computer science graduate of MIT, said creating the Wynd device was a natural for him because air quality has long been of concern to his family.

He was born in Beijing, and many of his family members still live there.

“China has gotten a lot more economically developed, but every time I go back it feels like the buildings are rising higher, [and] the air is getting a lot worse,” Wu said.

He explained that the Wynd team aimed to solve air-quality problems not only in Beijing; they see air quality as a global issue.

In the U.S., Wu said, though the pollution problem is not as severe as in China, dense urban areas with traffic and industrial activity, among other factors, trigger respiratory allergies in many.

Alan Cohen, a pediatric lung specialist and adjunct clinical instructor at Stanford University School of Medicine, agreed. “Here in the U.S. [the problem of air pollution] is less burdensome,” Cohen said, “but we’re not free of that concern.”

Said Wu: “We wanted to help all those people [who worried about air quality].”

To be able to do so, Wu’s company ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, raising more than $600,000 and exceeding its fundraising goal of $50,000 within 40 days. The company began mass-producing the purifier and its separate sensor in April 2017 and said it has since shipped worldwide to thousands of customers.

Although Wynd has been sold primarily online thus far, the company began offering its devices this month in the Palo Alto and San Francisco sites of b8ta, a software-powered retailer that designs its stores to allow consumers to learn about and try the latest tech products.

Using 3-D printers, Wu said, Wynd made the initial prototypes for a team member who had just had a baby and wanted to put the device in her daughter’s stroller because the infant had developed rashes and a cough when traveling, including throughout parts of Asia.

“We thought the big purifiers you can buy don’t really fit, and they’re not very mobile," Wu said. "So we built prototypes for the daughter."

Though the device was designed for use around infants, Wu said, the team quickly received interest from adults who wanted to use the products themselves. But first, the system needed a little more tweaking.

“It’s such a small device," he said, "You can feel the airflow, but you don’t know if it’s working,” he said.

To remedy the problem, the Wynd team brought laboratory-grade sensors to users so they could see for themselves whether the device was cleaning the air. When the customers seemed satisfied with those findings, Wu said, the idea was sparked for the company’s detachable Air Quality Tracker, the sensor that comes with the purifier.

Wynd purifier lead engineer Eric Muñoz said one of the product’s strong suits is its ability to produce 9 liters of air flow per second despite its small size.

Muñoz, formerly an aerospace engineer focused on creating jet and rocket turbines, said Wynd’s partnership with the Delta Fan Business Group allowed the company to create a low-turbulence fan for the Wynd purifier to clean the air and distribute it in a 3-foot radius near the user.

“Most purifiers are about cleaning the air in a large space and allowing it to disburse,” Muñoz said. “Our goal is to create a bubble of clean air for you to use as you move around.”

Wu said he wants the Wynd purifying system to crowdsource air-quality data to help people make informed lifestyle choices.

“We’re basically building the Waze of air quality,” he said, referring to the community-based traffic-navigating app. “Already we’re getting tens of thousands of data points every week from all over the world. With more local data, [users] can make decisions about where to work and live and play.”

August 22, 2017 - 12:32pm