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Vac hack lets Roomba test air quality too

With a few simple parts you can turn your Roomba into your own personal Erin Brockovich, at least as far as detecting indoor air pollution.

long-exposure image of air-quality sensor on a Roomba
With the right gear, your Roomba could tell you where you have an air quality problem. Long-exposure photos of the roving robots produce color patterns that indicate concentrations of pollutants.
Public Laboratory of Open Technology and Science

I don't expect the Roomba to do windows, but it'd be nice if it did a little more around the house. Students at the Rhode Island School of Design have come up with a vac hack that expands the little robot vacuum cleaner's repertoire. They've tricked out a Roomba with an indoor air pollution sensor.

The hack promises to take one more household chore off your hands. Vacuum? Check. Track down sources of volatile organic compounds? Check.

Getting a Roomba to sniff out air pollution isn't much of a stretch. As the students note on their Roomba project page, the autonomous bots travel all around the rooms they're set loose in. Might as well have them assess air quality wherever they go.

The Roomba sniffer is made from simple components: a sub-$20 air quality sensor, an LED, and a battery. As the Roomba makes its rounds, the sensor measures levels of volatile organic compounds. When levels rise above a threshold, a light on the sensor changes from green to blue. Long-exposure photos of the roving robots produce color patterns that indicate concentrations of pollutants.

The students used alcohol as their test pollutant. Next, they'll configure the sensor to detect formaldehyde, a common indoor air pollutant. Plywood is a typical source of formaldehyde, which can cause burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty breathing, according to the EPA.

The research is sponsored by the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS), a research organization that develops open-source tools and promotes small-scale, DIY projects that support environmentally and socially progressive causes. Other PLOTS projects include balloon and kite aerial mapping of environmentally sensitive areas, including areas affected by the Gulf oil spill.

tricked-out roomba
Public Laboratory of Open Technology and Science

(Via Technology Review)