Seeing the Future: A Nine Year Old Created Technology That Could Change Asthma Management

Yes, I repeat: a nine year old has created award winning technology that could change the lives of people with asthma—especially families with children living with asthma. The kit, known as Asthma Pi (pronounced like pie or pi, more on that in a moment), was developed by Arnav Sharma, and the technology takes in information about the environment and a person’s breathing, and breaks it down to mobile (text message) alerts about changes that could be occurring in a person’s asthma, improving our ability to react earlier to an exacerbation or flare-up. 1

Now, all of the articles on Asthma Pi are pretty techie (as they should be, really!), so, here’s a broken down-version of what Arnav has created (that the rest of us who aren’t programmers can understand!).

  • Raspberry Pi. Not just delicious when an e is tagged on to the end, Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer device, primarily used to teach programming in schools and developing countries. Raspberry Pi devices are small and low-cost (we’re talking $25), and about the size of a credit card (you know, a credit card that may come with USB ports and other fancy things). 2
  • Arduino Uno. Arduino Uno is a microcontroller. In Asthma PI, Arduino Uno is used to gather information from the environment—it is an “I/O Kit”, which simply stands for “input/output” (thank you Kat for telling me what Google did not). Kat went on to tell me “You can use it to control anything attached to your phone/computer.” (Apple has some complicated documentation here). 3 The Arduino Uno costs about $23, and gathers information from the Sense HAT, Gas Sensor and the Dust Sensor.
  • Sense HAT. Not actually a hat. Sense HAT is where two of the Asthma PI sensors live, and is created by Raspberry Pi. In Asthma PI, only the humidity and temperature sensors are used, however, Sense HAT can also grab information about movement (accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer--which is what it sounds like, it measures the magnetic forces of the Earth and such, per the dictionary), air pressure, and basically has limitless possibilities (at least per the blog post with the guy who is creating an attack robot that dispenses Wagon Wheels from its mouth. I did not make this up, guys. 4 The Sense HAT is  $30.
  • MQ-135 Gas Sensor. Made by Raspberry Pi, the MQ-135 is a $10 air quality sensor, sensitive for alcohol (yes, alcohol—a known asthma trigger!), smoke, sulfide and benzene, a hazardous gas 1,5,6
  • Sharp Optical Dust Sensor. As the title indicates, this sensor uses an infrared diode to determine the number of airborne dust particles in an area—a pretty intense job for a sensor that only costs $12. Along with the MQ-135 and the Sense HAT, the dust sensor is connected to the Asthma Pi system to give a fuller understanding of environmental conditions.
If you’ve been keeping track, this means the Asthma PI system costs $100. And, considering the implications—greater asthma control, predictive alerts via e-mail or text, and I would think a lot of possibility for expansion—if you’ve got some programming knowledge like Arnav does, and asthma, it might be worthwhile looking into creating your own Asthma Pi system to help improve your asthma control. Arnav, at age nine, started from the ground up, learning about asthma, how the lungs work in asthma, and what triggers the disease, and then built a relatively low-cost technology to help people with asthma live better. For his work, Arnav is the winner of the People’s Choice Award and Winner of Winners Award, and a finalist for the Young Pioneer category of the Tech4Good Awards 7Off note, too, Arnav does not have asthma himself 7. Let that be an advocacy lesson for all of us—just because something does not affect us, does not mean that it isn’t something we should pursue if we are interested in it and making the world better!

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