iqlair team at work. image source
qlair is a Shadow Labs company focused on clean air management.
Ellie Amirnasr founded qlair with two colleagues from MANN+HUMMELL, a global air filtration company. Because of their background, they knew what many of us don’t realize: Indoor air pollution can be up to five times higher than outside levels. Considering the average office worker spends a third of their day inside an office, air quality is a major health issue that often goes overlooked.
As an innovation project manager, Ellie was curious about creating the next generation of air quality control. So she and her team joined Plug and Play to build their first product, a hardware-agnostic air purification system. Now, as part of Shadow’s incubator program, qlair is focused on bridging the gap between raw data and optimized clean air management.
What do you want people to know about qlair?
Ellie Amirnasr: Our mission is to transform conventional air purification systems to smart and intelligent systems focused on personal wellbeing as well as building intelligence.
There’s a startling statistic on your website: 92% of us live in an area where pollution exceeds the World Health Organization standards.
The outdoor air quality might be good, so we assume the indoor air quality should be as well. The thing is, we spend 90 percent of our time inside buildings and that is where the air quality exceeds the threshold. Have you heard of sick building syndrome? By 2050, you will have 30% more people having allergic reactions because of new building materials your body’s not used to. These are synthetic materials for paints, carpets, flooring, glues that we’re creating for the first time because they’re good for other factors, but our bodies don’t play well with them.
How did you decide to turn clean air into an artificial intelligence play?
To be honest with you, when we were talking to a lot of customers and users, they really don’t want to deal with air quality on a daily basis. And if someone says, “The air quality is pretty bad,” they don’t know how to fix it. Because of our filtration background, we do.
There’s a joke in the field that the best facility management app is the app that you never open. Building management should take care of itself. That’s why we developed the prediction model and pattern recognition; all this intelligence behind the scenes. We make it possible for the HVAC to be autonomously steered by all this data. So we are reducing the human interaction required for clean air management.
Tell me more about what ‘personalized air purification setup’ can mean for your customers.
I will give you an example of our living lab at a university in California. They have this huge weight room. When it gets pretty crowded around 5:00 pm, the CO2 level goes really high. The air gets stuffy, people get a bit uncomfortable, it affects their performance. So [the building owners] would push a lot of fresh air inside to get the CO2 level down.
You don’t need to do that. With us, you can connect to the HVAC system and tell it to run in a low mode when the occupation is pretty low. And then as soon as it gets to like 5:00 to 11:00 pm, which is pretty busy, it goes on full speed. We also discovered the room’s design was not efficient and cost them a lot of energy. We can propose design changes to actually flush the air in a better way, so the whole room gets better fresh air and reduced C02.
Who is your ideal customer? Who do you see leveraging your solution?
We are actually looking at a building management system providers, facility management companies, as well as filter manufacturing and HVAC manufacturers. At the beginning, we went directly to the facility manager, and most of them they told us, “Hey, look, I have a BMS system in place already. I don’t want an extra app for looking at air quality.” They were afraid it wouldn’t fit with their BMS or might mess something up. So we are partnering with two BMS companies right now to integrate directly into their solutions. We like to say that we’re an open platform that can be plugged into different systems.
What have you learned as you’ve been building qlair over the past year?
Oh, my God. A lot. We actually treat the buildings like a human being. We believe that they have different moods, they have different characteristics. So, in the past nine months, we had to earn very quickly to be able to get ourselves up to speed and compete with the existing solutions out there.
Imagine, I’m a material scientist. I was an innovation project manager working on material development for a filter system development. So I’d never worked with big data, data analytics, and software development. This is something totally new for me. But we have very strong members on the team who have the data science backgrounds as well as the software development background.
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