Tell us about your company and the work that you do.
The quality of the air that we breathe can have a profound impact on our health, on our comfort and productivity. It's a little bit sad really, and it is not just in the US, but people spend 90% of their time indoors. You get up in your house, you drive around in your car, you go to your office, and you repeat the process at night. That's so much time indoors, and unfortunately, your indoor air quality is not always that good. It depends on the ventilation. It also depends on what kind of activities are happening inside your home and inside your office.
An unfortunate part of efforts for energy efficiency and making buildings more energy efficient is that we are decreasing the quality of our air. If you get build-ups coming from your carpet, or from cleaning and cooking, and you are not bringing in adequate fresh air for ventilation, you can see a noticeable degradation in the quality of the air.
Air quality can impact your ability to focus, your ability to concentrate and just how well you feel. Most of us have probably been in meetings that just dragged on - we are not talking about the speaker being boring, but sometimes, you don't feel good. It can often be tied back to air quality. This costs hundreds of billions of dollars of productivity - people not being at their best because of the poor air quality.
One of the really interesting things about going out and promoting the sensor, the ZMOD4410, is that whenever I am at a customers site, I always get the sensor out and turn it on at the start of the meeting; to demonstrate how air quality changes. Air quality all depends on the ventilation in your building and how well that is controlled. Having the ability to know what the air quality is and then be able to take action, we think is very powerful. The ZMOD4410 platform cuts across a number of platforms - industrial applications, environmental applications, consumer applications, smart housing; they can all be served with this sensor.
IDT is new to sensing in general and very new to gas sensing, but we actually have a lot of history. We have been shipping proven elements for more than 12 years, and we have demonstrated that these sensors can operate in a real-world environment. We can show what the resistance is, how the sensitivity changes every time, the stability of or our materials. This is something that we are really proud of, and something we think is a real differentiator for IDT.
Coupled with the gas sensor is the sensor signal conditioner, which has already been qualified for a while. Putting these together in one package is what is new, but the fundamental, underlying technologies and manufacturing processes are well developed and have improved over time by incorporating nanotechnology and other sciences. We have got a whole library of materials that we can use on future iterations of our platform.
These sensors are already on the market, so I do not doubt that competitors are already taking them apart to analyze and see what our sensing material is. However, the thing about nano materials is it is not just about the average surface area. It is actually the shape of the nano particles and the process by which we make them, which we maintain year after year. It is not trivial, and that level of process control is part of what makes IDT sensor pretty special. We have learned and developed our process over the years. If you let certain things slip, maybe your humidity or the cross interference, it can have a profound impact on the material structure.
This is something that we are really excited to offer to our customer, this idea of firmware upgradability. The sensor is a heated metal oxide sensor. The sensing material isn't the only thing that affects the sensitivity and selectivity, but also the temperature and the time. By introducing different methods of operation, and different algorithms to interpret the resulting resistance data, we can use the sensor for a lot of different things.
The first area that we are focusing on right now is total indoor quality and total VOC (volatile organic compounds) levels. The hardware does not change, but the method of operation and the interpretation of the data does change. This makes the sensors future proof, and it lets our customers get a lot more value because this one sensor can do multiple jobs.
How long is the shelf-life of these sensors?
There is nothing consumable in the sensor. The company does make some polymer sensors, but what we are talking about here is metal oxide. It is a nanostructure-surrounded material, with a little bit of catalyst. Sitting on a shelf, absolutely nothing is going to happen to it - we have had sensors sitting in our storage for years. You can bring them out and they will be exactly like they were when they put them away.
Due to the nano structure material, it is a little bit like a sponge, so if you were to store it in a very dirty environment with very high VOC's, you might see that the resistance behavior would be a little bit different at first as it desorbed from the surface. However, that is still a reversible reaction, so once you put it up to the appropriate temperature and stabilize it, it's as fresh as the day it was born.
What are some of the things that have limited people from commonly using sensors?
Particularly in consumer markets and industrial markets, where there are regulations, but people have been able to make VOC measurements for years. The question is what are the gaps to implementation in the real-world.
One of them is understanding. If we tell the average consumer that you have got two milligrams per cubic meter of Total VOC, their eyes will glaze over. A lot of developers have gone for a VOC level definition of red, yellow, green and that helps. Intuitively, we know that red is bad and green is good.
We have tried to tie this sensor to a specific piece of work by the German Environment Agency, UBA. What we like about their work, is the compendium of 40 or 50 other studies that look at the impact of VOC's on health. Not only do they say, for example, that four milligrams per cubic meter is a medium level, but they also give you guidance. So if you are at this level between one to three, this is something you don't want to be around for more than a year. If you are at three to ten, this is something you don't want to be around for more than a month. This then provides a bit of validation around our measurements and products.