A thought on ventilation notifications

Measure noise levels with Apple Watch
Apple Watch Noise Notifications

Sometimes during this pandemic I had the feeling that we were missing the point with clumsy measures and regulations.

It’s like we were all told to use a plastic spoon to carve a turkey. Money and time was poured into different colours, styles and sizes of plastic spoon but people didn’t feel qualified or informed enough to ever doubt the effectiveness of using a plastic spoon to carve a turkey.

I’m obviously also not qualified to doubt the plastic spoon, nor would I dare to challenge the financial interests of Big Spoon but still I feel like we could apply creativity at a different point in the process…

Since watchOS6 you’ve been able to get alerts on your watch when the room you’re in is deemed dangerously noisy. Which on top of ‘Hey Siri’ and hand-wash recognition is a pretty cool application of an always on microphone.

Why is this relevant? Well, in autumn 2020 we found out COVID was probably more airborne than originally presumed, a fact which makes social distancing look a bit more plastic spoony – because this means the virus floats around the room like a gas rather than being gently sprayed onto the floor as first thought. It also means that there might be better ways of carving our turkey.

I bought a Netatmo Healthy Home Coach and put it under our TV to see if it was easy to monitor indoor ventilation. It turns out its very easy if you look at levels of carbon dioxide concentration. When people are in a room they take oxygen out of the air and replace it with water and CO2. By observing the CO2 levels in a room you can tell directly how well ventilated the space it. Luckily the response time from opening a window to seeing a decrease in the CO2 reading in my flat was much sharper than I would’ve guessed.

Take Sunday evening when we had 3 friends over in our 35m2 living room to watch the Euro Italy vs. England final. We kept the balcony door open for most of the evening.

The sun began to set about 10pm, which invites mosquitos so the balcony door had to be closed about 10:40. Even though the other windows all stayed half open, you can see the response of closing the door in the graph above as the room gradually filled with exhaled CO2.

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The room where it happened.

Like fish in water, the contents of the air around us is invisible and so totally un-salient; which is sensible evolutionarily because air quality is generally un-actionable information to your average mammal.

Imagine for a second a world where you could observe air taking on a cloudy grey hue as it filled with everyones breath, like dishwater. Or indeed if we could smell the air change as sensitively as a dog. I think if we lived in that world we would know intuitively what to do about airborne infectious diseases.

When you see graphs like this it becomes obvious why infections always peak in winter: we have the windows closed.

Businesses do what looks good, and ventilating your restaurant in the colder months doesn’t look like anything other than higher heating bills if no one can see, smell or feel the benefit.

A little Google tells me we have miniaturised these sensors already. So I think there’s some potential here – if we all carried a little Co2 sensor in our phone or watch, we could see for ourselves if the cinema, bar or restaurant we’re sitting in is really bothering to ventilate properly. The point is not just to help you escape a room full of delta variant but for the businesses to have a proper incentive to make this previously invisible but potentially extremely effective change.

Compared with social distancing and hand-sanitising; I think ventilation is a way more easy to implement and more effective measure.

Couple of other things to look at on this:

This article has nice visuals for picturing how COVID fills a close room.

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Categorised as Covid

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