There has been an apparent trend for the digitalization of the wellness industry in recent years.
Portable health gadgets are rapidly getting a foothold in our daily routines, starting from plain fitness trackers to smart glucometers to neurofeedback headbands for meditations and many more.
To find out more about the newest industry developments, I spoke with Alina Ganova, the Co-founder & CEO of Altos, a startup developing smart air testers and software to help people improve cognitive performance and well-being.
Altos helps users increase cognitive performance by ensuring optimal air composition. How does it work?
We created the first personal productivity accessory notifying people when air composition changes and can affect their cognitive performance. The idea stems from Mit’s (Mit Gorilovsky, Altos Co-Founder) and my own interest in well-being and from the scientific article proving our assumption that air composition directly affects our cognitive functions.
Apart from the actual device with a high-precision CO2 sensor combined with some other environmental sensors and thought-out design, we developed a simple BrainFuel scale that allows users to understand when they need to take a walk or air the room and when their productivity might be impaired by CO2 level via app notifications.
We were aiming to create a device that people would love to introduce in their daily life and believe that it can help them shape mindful routines around work, sport, and sleep. Our brain and body performance is sensitive toward physical factors, and we are on our way to creating a whole IoT system that would help people measure the parameters of their environment and see how it affects their well-being.
How does Altos determine the level of CO2?
The device determines the CO2 concentration level based on constant air sampling.
To make the measurements more user-friendly and transparent, we translate the received data into the BrainFuel scale.
From user interviews we found out that lots of people don’t really know how much ppm is good or bad for your brain productivity, they simply want to know if the air is good or bad for their well-being.
And this is where Altos comes in handy with its recommendation and data interpretation. Of course, for those who need to view the original values, there’s a special dashboard inside our app where all the figures can be found.
How many iterations did it take to develop a serial product? What difficulties did you encounter during the development process?
Well, it took a few and it is definitely an iterative process. When working with electronics, there are certain restrictions in terms of what we can and cannot use inside Altos.
We were also testing different materials for the body of the device (and we still are.) There was quite a bit of back-and-forth between our engineers, designers and our first users, who were testing the product.
The sensors research is also quite time-consuming—we were checking out pretty much everything that was available on the market to make the best choice.
We have been looking for the most precise and efficient options, and we keep researching as the world of electronics is constantly changing. It always takes time to make the samples, test them out and set up the production. We already have a vision for Altos 2.0 considering our internal developments and users’ suggestions.
Where did the idea for Altos come from?
The idea of Altos was initially born from reading the scientific article that proved that CO2 concentration directly affects human cognitive function.
Later, we found extensive research on how different factors can affect people's overall well-being and realized that only a tiny bit of that knowledge is actually used on a daily basis.
So we created a device that collects environmental data and translates it into the human language via the phone application. We developed the BrainFuel scale, which lets you know when conditions are not optimal for productive work, creativity, sports recovery, or restful sleep, and provides notifications and practical tips on what can make you feel better.
What principles do you bring to the development of your product?
Our major difference is that we are focusing on well-being and productivity. We’ve designed the BrainFuel scale that gives people a clear understanding of how CO2 concentration and other environment-related data are currently affecting them.
When you tell people that their current ppm level is 500, it doesn’t tell them anything. But when you tell them that they might be unproductive right now or their environment is not optimal for decision-making—that is a game-changer.
We have also designed Altos with a focus on portability so that people can carry it around. It doesn’t need to be plugged in all the time since it has an extremely powerful battery that needs charging only once in approximately 6 months.
We have also received two design awards: iF and RedDot, which helped us in positioning our product differently. We really want people to interact with the device daily, and, therefore, it is important to make a device that is aesthetically pleasing.
How does Altos affect the life of its user? What effects do walks and fresh air have on vital processes?
In Altos, we believe in the huge potential of IoT and that it should be accessible to everyone on a daily basis.
The first version of Altos is just a first step towards optimizing the environment we spend our time in, including homes, offices, gyms, etc. Our first approach is monitoring CO2 levels, and we believe that keeping them low will not only help to keep people's mental performance high, but it also changes people's habits concerning fresh air.
Proper room airing also helps reduce the risk of virus infections, such as Covid-19. As for the consequences—we already know a few customers, who made changes to their office space due to poor ventilation detected by Altos.
What scenarios and recommendations does the gadget provide for users—what does Altos suggest if the level of CO2 in the air is high?
We believe that daily routines are shaping the overall quality of our life. For example, during the pandemic, we remembered how important it was to wash our hands—even though we’ve been taught to do so since we were kids.
Or walking 10,000 steps per day—we all know it is important, but with trackers, we got a more tangible sense of how many steps we are actually making.
So, with our technology, we are measuring environmental factors that can affect our well-being: we decided to start from CO2 concentration combined with some other sensors. This data can give people a clear idea of why they feel unproductive or dizzy.
Do you implement gamification in the app’s user experience? Tell us a bit about these scenarios.
Not yet, but this is something that we are also working on. We see gamification as an effective tool to maintain the habits that we are helping people to build.
There are plenty of options that we are considering, for example, having an internal Altos currency that can be earned via keeping your environment healthy and spent in our partnering stores. We believe that this could encourage people to keep an eye out for the environment they spend their time in during the day.
Altos recommendations are closely related to lifestyle. Do you use Altos and follow its advice? Can you share productivity and wellness hacks that you use daily?
I use Altos notifications to take breaks during the day, and it helps me balance activities in my schedule. I discovered for myself that I’m way more productive when I’m being able to alternate timeslots of deep focus (I use the “focus” widget on the latest iOS and Endel App quite a lot), not-so-deep-focus, and allowing sometimes my mind to just wander (driving and swimming are great for those.)
There’s also an importance of having a rest—I’m a big ambassador of high quality chilling :) I grew up near the sea, so I can simply sit and watch the water for a long time and I can feel how my battery is recharging. Rest and leisure are important and I think people do understand this, but I see quite a few people (at least around me) actually practicing it.
How are you going to improve Altos? What new features do you plan to add? What other indicators that affect productivity will Altos measure? Will the gadget integrate with smart home systems?
We are working on a whole new system that will allow people to have a clear idea about the state of their environment. In our next version of the app, we will include data about humidity level, temperature, noise level information, and personalized science-backed recommendations. We are also planning integrations with Apple Health and Google Fit—this will allow us to create customized predictions based on the user's health activity.
We are aiming to bridge the gap between the user's personal physical information and the environment they are in. People are inseparable from the spaces that they inhabit, so we are creating new ways of understanding what is working or not for us personally.