The Ambee Story
Madhusudhan AnandThe story of Ambee is an interesting one. Tell me the story of how it all beganAah, yes. That's a long one. Ambee started off sometime in 2015 when I moved from Hyderabad to Bangalore. I was living outside of Electronic City because my wife was working there. My previous startup was acquired and at that time I was just learning IoT and attending a lot of hackathons and there was this one particular hackathon that I attended. I attended because we were getting these free kits. We were a small team at that time and we went there and built this thing called Ambee which could measure air, water, noise, UV and so on. There were all these sensors that come from a grove sensor kit, which is an IoT kit. We won that hackathon. But little did I know that it is going to change my life.My son who was six months old started picking up a cold. Eventually, the doctor one day called and said that he might be turning asthmatic. He stopped doing all the normal baby activities. His weight was unhealthy, he did not smile or play, he did not drink milk. We did not have a solution. We did not know why this was happening. He used to wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air, trying to breathe. He was struggling and it was painful for us to see him go through something like that.Although he was not asthmatic yet, we were giving him some asthma-related medicine already. We were really, really worried. One day he woke up and as usual it was very late because you know, as a young child, you cannot speak at that age. And we do not know what is going on, we can only see you suffer.One night he woke up and we tried to put him to sleep. My wife and I had not slept for many days. We were going through some tough times. After he slept, it was at 6:30 and I did not want to sleep. I looked at my wife and my son, they looked tired. That was a really tough time for me to look at them that way going through all of that having no way to find out why. I called my friend who is a doctor. He said he wanted to help. He is not a pediatrician though, so the doctor and I went to a pediatrician.We met with the pediatrician and were talking around a table where I had put the prototype I had built at the hackathon. They asked me about it and I gave a brief intro:
"It just measures air, some project I built at an IoT hackathon and we won that but this is nothing special."
The pediatrician called his father while driving on the way home from the meeting. They agreed that it could be anything. It could be the bedsheets, a bacterial infection, or a viral infection. It could also be.. the air. That suddenly made him stop the car when he realized that that could be something. Maddie mentioned a device that measures air. He gave me a call and said:
l am coming back, I am not coming going to my clinic. Tell me more about this device.
He then told me that my sons' problems could be because of air pollution. So just like hundreds of others, I went on the internet to look for air pollution. The nearest air monitoring station was in Silk Board. The numbers indicated 25, which is the World Health Organisations' safe limit for good quality air.. as a father I could not just sit by and do nothing.So I put together the prototype again and connected it to a visualizer and started looking at the data. While the internet said that the city is averaging at a safe 25, the air quality around my house was 800. This changed everything. It told me that air quality is hyperlocal. It changes from place to place. It affects us big time. Everything affects air quality: Indoors environment, traffic, construction, industries, population density and so on.Then I spoke with the people in my apartment building. All the housewives had a running nose, they would get a lot of headaches. I spoke with people on my street and found out that everyone is affected.A few months later, we found out that there is a factory near my house. That was burning dynamin (?) in the night for the workers to come to make carbon in the air. In the daytime, there is some dye-making. That was what was polluting the whole place. More than 3000 families affected. Then I found out that there are 82,5 million mothers in India with children under the age of 3 who are affected by some sort of respiratory disorder, mostly asthma. All because of air pollution. Then I looked at worldwide statistics. That there are 1500 children who die every day because of air pollution. Living in Delhi alone reduces life expectancy by 9,5 years according to a study by the Chicago University. This was before anyone spoke about air pollution the way we do now. In 2015, nobody thought this was an issue. This was the beginning of Ambee.After we found out this is a problem, we moved my son to my parents and he is doing great now. When I moved to my parents I used this device that I built at a hackathon and the air quality was pretty good. In about three days my son is completely fine. When he was sick he had stopped doing all the baby things. Now that he was better, he started behaving normally. He started drinking milk, he had a healthy weight, he started smiling, he started playing, which had completely stopped. In three days, he was completely fine. 100% what he used to be. Cured without any medicines.I used the device to find a new place where we moved in. Where we stay right now. I continuously monitor and know what I am breathing to make sure that the family is safe and healthy.The people who live where I used to live are aware now. They see our data every day and take the right actions. They know when to close the windows, when to use a purifier, when to go out, where to go for a jog. They avoid the negative consequences of air pollution because they are informed.The doctors also formed a small team, came down and did research in the area. With them, we did validation of if the product is useful or not. We spoke to 350 patients who are random people from the hospital suffering from chronic respiratory problems, asthmatics, pregnant women, new mothers, and new fathers and old age people. Everyone believes that air pollution is the problem. We saved two other childrens lives. I still keep in close touch with them. That is why we have parents and doctors on our platform. The parents of the two children called us and said:
You helped us cure our child from asthma by preventing an asthma attack. You helped us take the right action, and now my daughter is cured.
When you can't measure something, how can you solve it? I have been working in startups for six years, building products that solve problems. Every startup starts off saying "we are here to make a dent in the universe and make the world a better place". Then they go about building another delivery app that might make the world a better place, but real problems are where you see a more direct social impact.Like I said, we built this and helped save real lives. Air pollution is a global, massive problem and everyone is affected. You go to London, Paris, Brussels, Africa, the Middle East, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Australia. Any of these places. It is a global, massive problem and everyone is affected. There are chain reactions that have set course already. There is an increase in natural calamities. All of this is coming at what cost? Lack of awareness and that is unbelievable. It is not a lack of technology or because we do something really bad on intention. It is not that we have a mafia who wants to kill the planet. There are so many apps that tell you how to work out, how many calories to burn, what to eat, what time you should eat, what time you should meditate.Yet there is hardly anything in the world that exists today that tells you anything the 23,000 breaths you take in a day. That is 11,000 liters of air we breathe in a single day. When you drink water, you are so concerned about the three liters of water you drink in a day, but what about the 11,000 liters of air you breathe? Are you okay with that air being unclean? If you get thirsty, you can wait to drink, but what if there is pollution right in front of you? You cannot hold your breath for more than 20-30 seconds. You still have to breathe. It is a behavior problem, it is an attitude problem, it is a culture problem, it is a big issue, it is a systematic problem as well. What can you do about it?The solution begins with access to information. When you have information through the right measurement, then you can solve the problem. There is a global lack of outdoors air quality sensors. Mumbai in India, for example, has only two outdoors sensors, in Bangalore, there are about five, the sixth one keeps coming on and off. The situation is similar in most cities all over the world.Today we have real-time hyperlocal air quality data for 15,000 locations covering 100+ countries on the planet. That means you can know what the air quality is right now, outside your house in the countries we are monitoring. We do this with a combination of technologies. There is hardware data, satellite images, hyperlocal human parameters of population density and contextual data of construction and garbage burning. All of this with the impact of weather. There is, for example, a lot of smog in the winter in some countries.With this information, we can alert people to take micro action to prevent themselves from the harmful effects of air pollution. We are building a lot of solutions at Ambee. Let me tell you about the solution for a massive global problem like this, because one thing is a lot of people don't want to solve it. Because it is very big and everyone thinks that solving the problem of air pollution is installing air purifiers. We did a study around this. If you convert 20% of all the large buildings in Bangalore into air purifiers, they would only reduce one percent of the pollution. Because on one side you are continuously emitting. And you are expecting something to suck all the pollution out of air, which is not possible. So the only solution to this is for people to start taking responsibility, taking actions, taking responsibility.If our industries continue to pollute and if our governments continue to overlook the pollution because there is a factory and the nearest air monitoring station is 25-30 kilometers away, then what's the point? Also, people burn garbage and no one is really concerned. People don't choose public transport, people don't take their emissions checks properly. There is no construction laws in India right now, which there is in other countries. If you are polluting while doing construction and violate those laws, you get fines. That is not the case in India. We have seen a few videos where metro construction is going on and there is so much emission by the diesel digger that is being used and nobody cares, as if it doesn't affect them. But in the night when they sleep and breathe air that is taking them to the hospital, even the doctor doesn't tell them why they are getting sick. We need community action.Ambee is a platform. We want it to help improve the health of the planet. It is a platform of enviornmental intelligence. The aim of the platform is to be easy, accessible, intuitive, informative and problem-solving to a lot of people, companies, and corporations who are affected by problems the climate, which consists of air, water and so on.
In the beginning, we thought about being a hardware company that could give these devices to maybe 1000 or 10000 people mothers and fathers. But how do we take it global? In India, building hardware is very hard. You just cannot go about building hardware straight away.
The world's cheapest and very accurate air quality monitors. There is some accelerator program we have become a part of.I think it is a good place to begin that people become aware. Most of us think that "I cannot see air pollution, I can see smoke." Smoke alone is not air pollution. There are so many particles that we cannot see, so many pollutants that still cause problems. Can you see pollen? Can you see allergens? No, you can not. That is what causes air pollution and we are the only ones who have the right information at the moment.Air is one thing. We are also expanding our reach to water and soil to become a complete enviornmental platform.Btw, can I call you the father of Ambee?Hehehe, no one has called me that before. Ambee is something that has come way beyond what I thought it would ever be because of all the people who are a part of it. All the many people who have made what Ambee is today, all the team members, all the investors, all the stakeholders, all the customers who give us feedback. You can call me a co-founder of Ambee rather.Feel free to join our fight against air pollution at: Getambee.com