26 July 2022 / Last updated: 26 Jul 2022

Introducing balenAir: an affordable air quality monitor for the home or office

Learn why we decided to build an indoor air quality device under the new balenAir brand powered by our own platform and product-building tools.
Introducing balenAir
It’s a mission to not only create an amazing product for people all over the world, but also to demonstrate how to use the balena ecosystem from end to end: using balena Blocks and App Enablement to create the code, balenaCloud to maintain it at scale, and balenaHub to distribute the code and hardware.

A quick origin story

Introducing balenAir
Last fall, we designed and built a number of compact indoor air quality monitoring devices for our annual employee summit. It was the first opportunity for our fully remote team to gather together in person since the start of the pandemic and we wanted an easy way to verify clean air at-a-glance.
The devices proved so popular, we decided to use them as the basis for emulating a startup and gaining valuable insights into how our IoT platform and product builder tools look from a fleet owner’s perspective.

Living the Product Builder life

At balena, we are all product builders. All processes inside the company are considered products to be iterated and improved, and everyone is encouraged to take ownership of at least one product. All of these products are designed to fulfill our mission of “reducing friction for fleet owners” so others can build a flat, nimble organization such as ours if they wish. With that in mind, we launched balenAir with the goal of using balena’s product-building tools so we could provide feedback on their usefulness and features:
  • balenaCloud - our IoT platform for fleet management (the balena product most users are familiar with!)
  • Landr - turns a Github repository into a website for your project
  • Jellyfish - a social knowledge database that allows teams to collaborate
  • Testbot - automation of hardware testing
  • Hardware on demand (HOD) - automated product configuration and fulfillment
Not all of the tools listed above are publically available yet, but should be at some point in the future. Or should they? One of the goals of balenAir is to make sure balena is spending time developing projects that are most impactful for fleet owners. We’ve already provided some frank feedback on a few of these tools, and we’ll continue to do so as we build our balenAir products and fleet.

Addressing a market opportunity

balenAir is more than just a testbed for balena products - we genuinely care about making environmental information visibly more accessible to consumers so they can make actionable decisions to improve their health and well being.
We also saw a void in the indoor air quality measurement space regarding data privacy and transparency. All balenAir hardware and software are open source. You can see exactly which components go into a device, their datasheets, and all of the source code - what could be more transparent than that?
In addition, the data collected by your device remains on the device and not in the cloud. Your data remains your own, and is only anonymously aggregated with others if you opt-in. (Anonymous data is used to help train our machine learning algorithms for future products.)

Taking a closer look at balenAir

The first balenAir product is called the IAQ - an incredibly simple way to measure the quality of your indoor air. Simply power up the device and it provides a color-coded score on its large LED matrix display: zero is the best air quality and 99 is the worst. No further instructions are required for basic usage. However, since it is powered by the balena platform, there is more under the hood:
  • A built-in captive portal to connect it to WiFi
  • A webserver to view its comprehensive data dashboard
  • A secure public URL to access your data, which is stored locally
  • Runs on open source software which you can modify if you want
  • Software updates, rebooting and remote ssh
The IAQ has many options when it comes to supported device types, sensors, and displays. You can choose which combination fits your needs and budget:
  • Boards: Raspberry Pi 3, 4, Zero 2, RADXA Zero (support coming soon!)
  • Sensors: CO2, VOC, Particulates, temperature, and humidity
  • Displays: bi-color 8x16 LED Matrix or less expensive eight segment RGB LED bargraph

Try it for yourself

Initially, the product is only available as a “build it yourself” project, but we’re exploring providing a kit of parts or fully built units. For more details on the device, check out our getting started page or our FAQ. You can gather the parts required for the lowest-cost IAQ option for less than $60, print your own case, and assemble it with no soldering required! It makes a great first project that you will actually find useful for years to come.
Like all of our projects, feedback and questions are welcomed. Sound off in the comments below!
by Alan BorisHardware Hacker in Residence