UNICEF Innovation Fund Graduate: qAIRa
The UNICEF Innovation Fund is proud to see portfolio member, qAIRa, graduate. They’ve come a long way – from numerous product iterations to deep diving into understanding their ecosystem better, strengthening their business model, and gearing up to take their solution to market. They’re now ready to collaborate at a larger scale – as they find new pathways to work with partners, investors, and the open source community.
At qAIRa, we generate air quality data through low-cost, faster and smarter technologies, so everyone can live in safe places to breathe. Over the past 12 months we have been working hard and managed to develop two air quality modules, one for a multirotor drone and other for our Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) drone. In the same way, we have been working on the development of our open source qAIRaMap software for the qHAWAX modules (fixed) and modules in drones (mobile). But, what is qAIRaMap? It’s a web application dedicated to air quality monitoring through our measurement modules, mobile and fixed. In this application, people can know the quality of the air they breathe in real time. As part of our growth, last December a qHAWAX module was sent to Puerto Maldonado in alliance with the National University of San Antonio Abad of Cusco (UNSAAC) with the aim of expanding the scope of the project.
About our solution
Our solution could have the greatest impact in developed and developing cities. The information from our modules and qAIRamap is used to create sustainable development plans. There are cities in the Latin American region that are increasingly interested in measuring air quality for the benefit of their population. Likewise, we are sure that our solution can be scaled to other continents and help in the development of multiple cities.
Therefore, social impact is important and metrics and programs should be generated to improve people’s quality of life. Our solution contributes to the worldwide development of low-cost air quality modules. This technology is being adopted by the authorities. In Peru, the Ministry of the Environment is adopting low-cost air quality modules as an alternative form of measurement, allowing measurements to be compared with certified stations. From a business point of view, qAIRa is going to market its solution abroad with strategic partners to increase users of our qAIRamap software and make it the biggest air quality web platform in the region.
Tests and trials
In our field tests, the first ones were carried out with the multirotor drone. The aim was to evaluate the weight that the drone was capable of carrying, as well as its autonomy. These tests were also useful to evaluate the correct operation of elements such as the GPS. Final tests were performed with an optimized version of the mobile module (more compact and less weight). This modification means that we can always be in constant improvement and continue development.
“One of the tests consisted of validating the operation of the drone program that sends telemetry through the cellular network to the website. In this first communication test, I obtained that the takeoff of the drone was sent repeatedly, which generates the visualization of a new start of flight constantly. The most memorable thing was to verify that the telemetry was sent successfully, although with some errors, this is part of the tests." --Paola Casabona, drones-hangar engineer at qAIRa.
"The key lesson I learned from this test was that we have to value every small step that brings us closer to our goal and remembering this always encourages us to work giving the best of ourselves”- Paola Casabona, drones-hangar engineer at qAIRa.
We were able to deploy our fixed solution for air quality monitoring, the qHAWAX module, in 2 locations: Huachipa — Lima and Puerto Maldonado — Madre de Dios. In Huachipa, where we monitored for almost 3 months, we were called to assess an environmental problem in the community as a consequence of heavy industrial activity in the area; we also performed drone flights to complement the information, which was sent to the Municipality of Lima and the leaders of the community as evidence to demand change. In Puerto Maldonado, we have been monitoring for almost 2 months in partnership with the local national university UNSAAC and with professor David Gonzáles, to obtain air quality data from the city and in the neighborhood of the university campus, thus air quality that could potentially affect their students.
How has our solution benefited from being Open Source?
We benefit from the generation of new ideas, contributions and corrections from the community of developers, who provide value to our web application. It is a great benefit that they can see the project from the outside but also from the inside. The fact of being open source allows the community not only to see the output (the web) but also the data (the interior), and this allows us to look for alternatives and possible actions to take after obtaining the data.
The company’s way up
Apart from the traditional sales model, we have identified an alternative requirement in some clients. There is a need to carry out air quality monitoring in the short term, which means that there is a customer group that requires a differentiated model. Faced with this identified need, we implemented a new subscription model, which aims to meet short or medium-term needs in a specific customer profile. The objective for this year is to grow in the market hand, applying differentiated strategies based on different clients with different requirements.
Our biggest challenges
We were ready to test and show our air quality module in Madre de Dios, which meant traveling there; however, the COVID-19 pandemic changed this plan. We learnt that we have to be ready for changes and be able to adapt to every situation. We were able to find a local partner in the region and ship them our solution to test it in the field with their help. Adapting is part of growth.
We are looking to collaborate with UNICEF Peru to provide educational materials for children in order to raise awareness about caring for air quality. In the same way, we seek to achieve more public alliances with municipal and regional governments as well as private alliances with B corporations that allow us to amplify the scope of the project and enhance its growth through concrete actions.
We are in a period of growth and expansion toward establishing ourselves at the regional level. Our main goals are related to raising capital to achieve this growth specifically, national growth to cities such as Arequipa and Cajamarca, as well as regional expansion to Ecuador and Argentina. Finally, we seek to carry out the intercomparison process in charge of the Ministry of the Environment of Peru to assess the confidence level of our alternative solutions.
It is important to mention the professional growth we have had in air quality management, open source, commercial and strategy thanks to the support of UNICEF advisors. This support is valuable for our future as a company itself as it contributes to our sustainable growth. Thank you for believing in this and the other amazing projects of this cohort. The path of entrepreneurship is long, but we believe that the best way to undertake is to be truly passionate about the problem we want to solve. We invite you to be a Guardian of the Air too.