If I were to pick one story that I think was under-reported last year, it would be Delhi’s air quality. It hit the headlines briefly after the US embassy in the Capital raised an alarm about the soaring air pollution levels in the city, but it didn’t get the kind of media attention it should have got.

Let me quickly recap the story: In October, the US embassy said air quality in Delhi has reached a “very unhealthy" level. The embassy has its own monitors to measure fine airborne particulates called PM 2.5. There’s a formula to convert the PM 2.5 readings into air-quality index, which is ranked on a scale of “good" at one end, to “hazardous" at the other.

PM 2.5 is accepted as the best indicator of the level of health risk from air pollution, and is a global benchmark. These particles can go deep into the lungs and bloodstream.

The story, however, got lost in a controversy over measuring methods and numbers; the good thing is that the government said it will launch its own national air-quality index. But the bottom line is, we continue to breathe in highly polluted air and we don’t know what is being done to reduce the level of the poisonous particulates in the air.

I have a thermometer outside my house that tells me the temperature, and I think it would be nice to get a device—provided it’s not expensive—that would also check the PM 2.5 level. There are some available (at Amazon.com and other online stores) that pick up PM 2.5 data, but most of them look like scientific measuring instruments, not simple gadgets.

And so I found “the world’s first wearable air quality monitor" called Clarity that can detect pollution in real time on the go. The key chain-size gadget has sensors that can measure air pollutants, including PM 2.5, nitrogen dioxide and ammonia, and warns the user about the level of pollution. It syncs the information, via Bluetooth, with an app. It also measures temperature and humidity.

The device is the brainchild of a small team of students at the University of California, Berkeley, US. According to a story on the Wired website, where I first read about the gadget, the data from each one of these devices will be put on a cloud service. This means that users of the device will broadcast the pollution level in their vicinity that will contribute to creating an air-quality map. As ideas go, this is quite unique. The company is taking pre-orders for the device and plans to ship it by August (visit Clairity.io).

There’s another device called AirBeam that looks like a toddler’s toy and fits into your palm. It picks up PM 2.5 data which the user “aircasts" (broadcasting air-quality data) using a smartphone app. Funded at crowdfunding website Kickstarter, it’s not out in the market yet.

I’ve seen on the Net several new portable devices that measure indoor or outdoor air quality, but very few give the PM reading. Take, for instance, this gadget called Air.Air! that enables the user to measure and compare “the air at home with the air outdoors and in the surroundings". You can use the device on the go (www.airair.info). It measures air quality on the spot, and transmits the data to a Bluetooth-compatible phone. The website says, “It can detect hybrid or mixed particles in the air", but it does not measure the PM 2.5 or 10 level.

These monitoring devices—all fairly recent launches or in the process of being launched—are quite elegantly designed, but I am essentially looking for an outdoor device that also reads the PM level. If I feel that the air inside the house is more polluted than the air outside, which I am told can well be, I have a solution for it: I can go to our neighbourhood shop and invest in an air purifier. But what do I do when I step out of the house?

Shekhar Bhatia is a science buff and a geek at heart.

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