Alexa is Amazon’s AI-enhanced virtual assistant that can play music and podcasts, set alarms, take notes, hunt down information, play games, help with cooking, report the news, give sports updates, and a wide variety of other integrated capabilities. Alexa is installed in tens of millions of households in eight languages around the world.
Alexa can expand its abilities with Alexa Skills, programs designed by third parties that allow access to smart home devices, internet feeds, or exclusive content. Alexa skills are essentially the same as apps on your phone and can be downloaded or deleted in a similar way. Since Molekule’s mission is to bring clean air to everyone, we designed an Alexa Skill to report on the air quality.
What the Molekule Air Quality Review Skill does
At Molekule, our mission is to provide clean air for everyone, and one of the ways in which we are doing that is by spreading awareness of both indoor and outdoor air quality. Over the past few decades, the EPA and the NOAA have worked together to develop the Air Quality Index (AQI), which is a composite score of outdoor air quality that can be calculated by region. We explain a little more about the AQI in this post about how to interpret it and its associated colors.
In order to keep the public informed about environmental changes, the EPA places advanced air quality monitoring stations throughout the country and makes their data available on the EPA website. The EPA continuously monitors many different pollutants and reports levels of particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide as “criteria pollutants.” These pollutants are considered to be the biggest concerns for human and environmental health, and a region-by-region breakdown from the air quality monitoring stations is always available on AirNow.gov.
At a basic level, the AQI is designed to be an intuitive way to quickly understand how the EPA’s criteria pollutants are impacting outside air quality and what one should do, if anything, to best react. These pollutants have many sources but are primarily produced by combustion of organic fuels for heat, transportation, and electrical power. Particulate matter from smog or smoke is usually the best indicator of poor air quality, due to both its health impact and its tendency to occur along with other forms of pollution.
The EPA AQI is designed to be easily interpreted by anyone, but different people may have different sensitivities to air pollution. As a result, the EPA gives different AQI recommendations for people sensitive to air pollution. This would include people like the very young who have respiratory systems that are still developing, the very old with fragile respiratory systems, people who have had recent surgery, people with severe allergies, and several other groups for which medical professionals recommend minimal exposure to air pollution. When the air quality is bad, their recommendations are simple– avoid exposure to air pollution by seeking clean indoor spaces and to try to reduce the amount and deepness of breathing by reducing activity.
Simply, when the AQI equals 50, sensitive groups should be cautious and avoid exerting themselves. When the AQI is 100, pollution levels have reached the EPA-established maximum safe exposure level for a 24-hour period, so everyone should try to avoid exposure and reduce activity. From there on up is worsening air quality levels and stronger recommendations to avoid exposure.
Specifically, the recommendations for different AQI levels look like this:
- Good (AQI 50 or less): The air quality is good, everyone can go about their day as normal.
- Moderate (AQI 50 to 100): There are some impurities in the air, but most people can continue as normal. Sensitive groups should consider reducing activity.
- Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (AQI 100 to 150): Still not terrible for people with average respiratory systems, but in this range sensitive groups are at risk of health impact.
- Unhealthy (AQI 150 to 200): This is the range where everyone should take notice and try to reduce exposure. Sensitive groups are at risk of serious health impacts.
- Very Unhealthy (AQI 200 to 300): These levels will trigger an EPA Health Alert for all people to reduce exposure or risk health impact.
- Hazardous (AQI 300 or more): Same recommendation as Very Unhealthy but with the risk of serious health impacts for everyone.
By enabling the Molekule Air Quality Review skill, Alexa can let you know what the EPA is recommending for you based on your Alexa enabled devices location.
How to use the Molekule Air Quality Review skill
To use an Alexa skill, it must first be enabled. If you’re familiar with Alexa skills, you know that there are several very simple ways to enable them. Here are three ways to enable the Molekule Air Quality Review skill:
- Just tell Alexa directly by verbally asking to “enable the Molekule Air Quality Review”
- Search for “Molekule Air Quality Review” in the Alexa Skill store on Amazon.com
- Type “Molekule Air Quality Review Alexa Skill” into a search engine like Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo and click the first link to the Alexa store
Once the skill is enabled, Alexa will be ready to respond when you ask about the Air Quality Index, you don’t need to say the name of the skill. Start by addressing Alexa, then ask for “air quality index” to relate today’s score, today’s rating, or a similar question. Something like “Alexa, open air quality index and get me today’s air quality rating” or “Alexa, ask air quality index what the air quality near me is today” would work, though there are hundreds of possible invocations.
We encourage everyone with access to Alexa to enable our skill so it is just a little easier to remain aware of local air quality. If you do enable and are enjoying our Alexa skill, please be sure to leave us a Molekule review here. We’re always looking for ways to improve, so if you have any suggestions, please get in touch with us here.