• 06.27.13

A Smarter Smoke Detector That Tracks The Horrible Air You’re Breathing

Like so many other gadgets in our lives, smoke detectors are becoming multi-purpose. The latest is the Canary, a smartphone-controllable smoke detector that also detects air quality and carbon monoxide.

A Smarter Smoke Detector That Tracks The Horrible Air You’re Breathing

Standard smoke detectors don’t work very well. They go off for the wrong reasons (like burnt toast) and they don’t give you much information. A lot of people end up disarming them because they’re annoying, or they just forget to change the battery. Defective alarms are a major reason why 2,500 people still die from fires every year.


The team behind the Canary want to build a modern smoke detector that can be controlled from a smartphone, and that tells consumers more than whether there is smoke in the room. The Canary will also give readings for carbon monoxide and air quality (dust, pollen, mold). And, if all goes well, it will be part of a sensor network that provides a detailed picture of air data in various cities.

Take a look at the group’s video introduction here:

“We’re trying to create a smarter smoke detector. At the moment, it’s something that everyone has in their homes and everyone hates,” says lead developer Mark Belinsky. “It beeps at you obnoxiously at all hours, and people don’t know if it’s danger or annoyance.”

Along with an Arduino-based prototype, the team has also developed an app that will alert users if the battery is low, or if there’s an emergency brewing. The app gives information on particulates in the home, and, by importing data from other sources, data on outside air quality, as well. If users don’t have a smartphone, they can use a conventional phone to dial up and get most of the same information.

An early version came second in a recent Cleanweb Challenge and is now in the running for the NYC BigApps competition.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.