Airly combats air pollution with a network of accessible sensors

Cleantech startup Aerial wants to help communities around the world improve air quality with affordable sensors and software that provide actionable insights. The London and Krakow-based startup announced today that it has raised $5.5 million.

The round was led by firstminute capital and Pi Labs, with participation from returning investors such as Sir Richard Branson’s family office, AENU and Untitled. New investors include Cal Henderson, one of Slack’s co-founders, Snowflake co-founder Marcin Zukovki, and institutional investors Semapa Next and TO Ventures. This brings Airly’s total revenue to $8.8 million as of March 2021.

Airly is currently used by more than 500 local authorities in over 40 countries, with 5,000 of its sensors covering a total of 40,000 active measurement points. The cities include Warsaw, where Airly has installed 165 sensors, which the company says is the largest air quality monitoring network in Europe. It also has networks of sensors in cities across the UK and Indonesia.

So far, Airly has entered into strategic partnerships with JCDecaux, NHS, NILU (Norwegian Air Research Institute). It also partners with the DivAirCity project, which is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020.

Airly plans to create a dashboard that will allow users to monitor more data and gain insight into how air quality affects health and how to improve it. It will include a report generator, insights, impact tracking and city ranking. An online map and mobile apps now allow people in a community to check the air quality around them based on Airly data.

Airly started after co-founder and CEO Wiktor Warchalowski and two of his friends from the AGH Technical University in Krakow were training for a marathon.

“During our study, we had a hard time dealing with the intensity and realized it was due to air pollution,” he told TechCrunch. “So we built a system using our own air quality sensors to tell us where the cleanest air was, and we used those spaces for our training.”

Airly founders Michal Misik, Viktor Varhalovski and Alexander Konior

Airly founders Michal Misik, Viktor Varhalovski and Alexander Konior

After realizing that other people had the same problem, they started building the Airly platform for real-time air quality monitoring.

State air quality monitoring stations are usually only available in large cities, Warchalowski explained, and because they are expensive, there are often only three to five that cover large areas of land. Not only that, but they usually have a delay of several hours in reporting the data.

Airly wants to solve this problem with affordable sensors that are easy to install so that a person can be on any street in the city. They also send data to Airly’s app every five minutes, so air quality can be monitored in real time.

The platform’s insights help communities assess real-time health risks from poor air quality based on WHO standards or illegal emissions. It analyzes trends to identify sources of pollution and makes recommendations on how to improve air quality. For example, it can tell communities whether they should introduce low emission zones, solid fuel bans and green school streets. It also tracks improvements after these measures are taken.

A few examples of how Airly is being used include the #LetSchoolsBreathe campaign in the UK, where Airly monitors were installed in 50 schools. It also helped a major city in Central Europe obtain evidence that fuel-free zones are working as planned. Communities have used data collected by Airly to lobby local authorities to take action on air quality.

“On a macro scale, our data has repeatedly become an impetus for local policy change in terms of reducing the use of solid fuels, car traffic or impacting local pollutants,” Warchalowski said. “Airly supports organizations in their journey to eliminate pollution, improve air quality and protect public health, because data is the first step to pollution-free cities and communities. You can’t control what you can’t measure.

Airly currently has 500 paying customers and uses a “feel-as-a-service” model. Customers pay an annual subscription based on how many nodes they have access to, and pricing starts at $540 per node per year. There is a one-time setup fee for installing devices.

One of Airly’s main competitors is Breezometer, which was ( acquired in September by GOogle. Breezometer’s competitive advantage is the breadth of its air quality network coverage, which spans more than 100 countries and has a resolution of five meters. But Breezometer’s can’t provide the hyperlocal insights that Airly can, Warchalowski said. Another competitor is Clarity, which also builds a complete air quality and control platform with software and hardware. But Airly has a broader set of pollutant measures and also makes recommendations based on data.

Airly will use its new funding for research and development and to expand into new markets.

In a statement about the funding, the founders’ fund and Firstminute Capital co-founder and executive chairman Brent Hoberman said: “The repeats in London show how real-time local air quality data is the catalyst for taking action to make our urban spaces healthier and more sustainable. I expect many cities and local governments to follow their lead, starting with more accurate and local data. Airly has been at the forefront of building this data infrastructure and our fight against air pollution, and we are very proud to continue our support by co-leading their Series A.”

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