Foobot is the brainchild of Airboxlab CEO Jacques Touillon, who incorporated the business in 2013 and launched its flagship product two years later. Like most young tech enterprises today, Airboxlab operates in the field everybody’s talking about: the Internet of Things (IoT). Yet while many startups deliver services through apps alone, the Luxembourg/US-based company sells a piece of hardware, too.
A sleek little gadget, Foobot’s humble appearance belies its genius. The technology continuously measures indoor air quality, notifying the user via smartphone at the first sign of a decrease in purity. As you might expect from an IoT innovation, it also connects to other devices. For example, it instructs your air filtration system to kick in if atmospheric toxicants start approaching unhealthy levels.
But why is it so important to monitor air quality? Indoor air pollution manifests itself in two forms: toxic gases from our surroundings and minute solid particles we breathe in. In contrast to everything else that enters our body, we can’t see what we inhale. But that doesn’t mean it’s all okay. Far from it.
While pollutants are stronger out on the street, they are far more concentrated indoors. In fact, your home is up to five times more polluted than outside . Seeing as the average American spends around 90% percent of their lifetime between four walls , this is a serious problem. The result is an increase in rates of respiratory diseases, with eight percent of the US population suffering from asthma in 2009 compared to seven percent in 2001. Incidentally, part of Touillon’s inspiration for Foobot came when his infant child developed the illness.
With a background in environmental affairs, Touillon was all too conscious of the invisible menace circulating through our homes. However, he had a tough time convincing others that the matter needed addressing. "People are often quick to disregard it simply because its effects are not immediately apparent", he explains. Airboxlab and Foobot have since made strides, but Touillon’s efforts to shine a light on the subject are ongoing.
Skepticism and ignorance weren’t the only hurdles to stand in Touillon’s way. Due to the high complexity of air pollution, developing a technology to observe it was incredibly tricky. Fortunately for the Frenchman and his company, hard work paid off in the end. Their purpose-built hardware set them apart from the competition and identified them as experts in their field—to such an extent that Microsoft now deploys Foobots in its conference rooms.
The gadget’s success is of course largely down to the knowledge, skill, and determination of Touillon and his team. Yet the founder of Airboxlab attributes much of its impact—specifically in Europe—to the SCALE11 trade fair for startups. He cites its international reach and collaborative atmosphere as key factors behind Foobot’s recent surge in popularity. Describing last year’s edition of the event, Touillon enthuses, "We were able to spread the word and make a lot of really interesting, worldwide contacts."
He expects SCALE11 2017 to be even more fruitful for him and his employees. The CeBIT offshoot is attracting bigger crowds every year. Meanwhile, the topic of pollution is coming under ever-closer scrutiny. Touillon also hopes to capitalize on Foobot’s impressive connectivity, which allows it to communicate with over 100 devices already. For Airboxlab, this could prove a valuable tool in acquiring new partners.
Partnerships will play a vital role in the enterprise’s future growth. After all, Foobot depends on its compatibility with other technologies to deliver its full service. With the help of SCALE11 and the forward-thinking minds it attracts, Jacques Touillon aims to raise awareness and make pollution monitoring accessible to everyone; "That’s how we can contribute towards a better world", he concludes.