Flow is a wearable that helps you avoid nasty air pollution

A different kind of health tracker.

Nick Summers, @nisummers
January 4, 2017
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    While humanity has made strides to cut down its greenhouse emissions, the fact remains: We produce a lot of harmful gases every day. If you live in a city, however, it's easy to forget the quality of the air around you and the impact it might be having on your health. Flow, by Plume Labs, could change that. The tiny air-quality sensor looks like a portable thumb drive with a leather strap that lets you hang it from bags and clothing. It can measure dust, exhaust fumes and other harmful gases, as well as the household chemicals you might encounter indoors.

    Gallery: Flow hands-on | 9 Photos

    If you care about the environment, I can see the appeal. At CES, the team showed me the various LED combinations you can trigger with a small dimpled button on the front. Different colors clearly indicate the quality of the air around you; a second button press gives you an overview of the day, with each tiny light representing a one- or two-hour block.

    Flow works best when lots of people are using their devices simultaneously. Plume Labs will be collecting and comparing user data to create accurate, real-time pollution maps. The result will be an ever-evolving heat map with defined routes to avoid and clean, picturesque spots to enjoy. Swiping through the Flow's companion app, I was able to tap on starred parks that had been logged as pollution-free zones. The challenge will be persuading users to take potentially longer routes around their city or hometown. If you're running late for work, for instance, would you still accept a detour to avoid a patch of smog?

    I care about my health, but I'm not sure I care that much. Unfortunately for Plume Labs, I suspect many people feel the same way. That's a problem, because scale will be critical in order for it to realize its crowdsourced air-mapping dream. Still, it's a noble goal, and one that I can't help but admire. Flow's success will ultimately depend on its pricing -- if the sensor is cheap, curious souls might be willing to give it a try. If it's expensive, however, only the most-green-thumbed individuals will take the plunge.

    Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.

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