Dec 14, 2015

Author: Julie Makinen

For Beijing residents obsessed with air pollution, the stocking stuffer of the season is a smog-detecting gadget called the Laser Egg.

The device is the size of a large orange and can be used at home, in the car or anywhere air pollution is a concern — which in Beijing these days is basically everywhere.

It joins a booming market for devices that measure indoor air quality, which can vary widely between rooms in the same building. But its stylish design and $79 price tag have made it more popular than wonky-looking, lab-style “particle counters.”

Powered by a rechargeable battery, it sucks in air through a small vent, then through a laser beam that refracts when it hits pollution particles. A sensor measures the refractions. The result is a digital readout of 0 to 500 on the standard Air Quality Index, or AQI.

Users can install an app on their cellphones that can monitor multiple Eggs, track the data over time and send an alert if the air starts getting worse. The inventor, a 27-year-old Swiss expatriate named Liam Bates, envisions compiling data from thousands of Eggs online to tell people which restaurants and shops have the best air and which should be avoided.

Bates, who speaks Mandarin fluently and used to work in Chinese television, became interested in tracking pollution when his wife, Jessica Lam, relocated from Canada to Beijing and developed symptoms of asthma. The couple began researching air-purifying machines.

Unsatisfied with the available options, they started their own company, Origins Technology, in 2014. Their first products — the Laser Egg and a $700 air purifier called the OxyBox — went on sale this summer. Both are made in China but use components from around the world.

“Pollution is completely invisible, but if you have something telling you what the pollution levels are, then you really start to realize all these fascinating things that you didn’t know before,” Bates said. […]