In March of 2020, I joined the board at a small startup called Clarity. They’re concerned with the future of breathing, which affects every one of us (last I checked).
Clarity’s plan is subtle. But when you start seeing the vision, and you see that it’s already taken root in 60 countries, it gets hard to unsee it. Clarity’s new product, Node-S, represents the next phase of a vision I’d like to describe from my point of view.
Air quality is hyperlocal
In many places, including San Francisco, you don’t have a climate. You have a cluster of micro-climates: for instance, it’s completely normal to see a 10-degree temperature difference between two adjacent neighborhoods. But it’s not just the weather that differs across neighborhoods. There’s also hyperlocal variance in the presence of pollutants—not just in San Francisco, but everywhere in the world.
Even if you don’t think much about pollution in the Earth’s atmosphere, you do care about the quality of the air you breathe. What’s it like breathing the air on your block? Your kids’ schoolground? You probably wouldn’t want to live right next to an oil refinery—especially if you’ve seen the research about how air pollution affects cognitive performance, your chance of dementia, your chance of heart disease, and your life expectancy.
You’d only share a neighborhood with an air-polluting plant if you had no other options. And there are many families who do face that predicament in this country and around the world, which is an important socioeconomic problem.
The point is, the atmosphere in your immediate surroundings matters to you. Here on the West coast, this has perhaps never been clearer than it is right now, during a season of insane wildfires, when everyone’s watching the nearest available AQI estimate wondering if it’s a good idea to take a run. This trend will grow because of climate change and the increased intensity and frequency of wildfires.
Hyperlocal problems need hyperlocal monitoring
“We empower the world to fix environmental problems with measurement.” – Clarity’s mission statement
Unlike the traditional approach of having a couple very expensive air quality sensors in a metropolitan area, Clarity’s inexpensive network of accurate and software calibrated nodes allows much better coverage that pinpoints the air quality in your immediate surroundings.
With this kind of local information, we know to make sure the bakery trucks aren’t idling and releasing fumes onto the playground during your kids’ school recess hour. This is something the traditional sensors or “reference stations” at the center of the city can’t do. With Clarity, the data becomes available on a more specific, granular level, which makes it possible to intervene and take control of the air you and your family are breathing.
Node-S leads you to the source
Apart from all of the usual “faster, stronger, better battery”-type improvements, Clarity’s new Node-S includes the ability to add many more kinds of sensors—everything from wind speed and direction to ozone to black carbon sensors, and all the data integrates into a dashboard that allows customers to monitor the air quality information that affects them personally.
The new anemometer is exciting because if you can see the wind vectors, you know exactly where the pollution is coming from, and you can identify the point source of any pollution in your neighborhood. Not all pollution is being spewed out by a giant factory; some dangerous pollutants are emitted by people and companies that don’t even realize they’re doing it, and this is one way in which Node-S can shine.
The future of breathing
Air quality data is rarely actionable unless you can measure it not only on a citywide scale, but also in neighborhoods. Location-specific data empowers people and governments to make changes that improve the health of the community.
Clarity is now in 60 countries, and it’s going to be exciting to see, over the next few years, how these communities are going to act on this information to get stronger and healthier.