May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month and for good reason — everything is blooming, the wind is blowing and the grass is getting its first cutting.
No group or organization is more aware of the allergy issues this time of year and year-round than Pollen Sense LLC, a local startup company that offers real time automated pollen imaging and analysis provided through a smartphone app to the public.
In simplistic terms, the machine, about the size of a small toolbox, pulls in air samples, is then read by a microscope that feeds information through a computer to an smartphone app that gives an individual the current pollen counts and what kind of pollen it is.
The app can also receive information from the user and keep a history of what pollen affects the user and provide the user with warnings and updates. The app is initially free but will have some cost if used for more alerts and warnings.
“It is sending information every five minutes,” said Nathan Allan, co-founder. “You can get it (on the app) every hour. For the first time ever, you can prevent and know when and where you can go outside.”
Allan said that knowledge is a boon to just about anyone that breathes.
“Thirty percent of the Earth’s population suffers from some airborne allergens” Allan said. “That’s 2 billion people.”
While the United States and some other countries have archaic pollen counting machines that could take 3-5 days to produce results, Allan said that developing countries have zero infrastructure to help with air alerts and pollen counts.
A couple of the Pollen Sense machines are already being used in France with requests from other European countries and well as Australia. There more being used throughout the U.S.
After five years of testing, the company has started to sell the machines. With just a few more sold, the company is hoping to have the app in full use by July.
The cost for the Pollen Sense is currently $8,000. However, Allan said they have the technology now to make the machine smaller and more cost-effective.
The co-founders have not only had to do massive research, but they also created and designed all the parts that go into the machine.
“Five years ago, we couldn’t do what we are doing,” Allan said. “The technology was not available.”
In 2016, Pollen Sense received a $36,000 grant from the Utah Science Technology and Research organization, or USTAR, to help with their research. That helped them get the prototype started.
Other company co-founders including Allan are aerobiologist Landon Bunderson, biologist Rich Lucas, and prototype designer Kevn Lambson. Brent Noel, a mechanical engineer, joined the company later.
Bunderson, of Springville, was raised in Emery County and has suffered all his life from airborne allergies. So much so that his education lead him to get a master’s degree in plant science and a doctorate in aerobiology from the University of Tulsa.
“I did my doctorate studies on myself,” Bunderson said. He is particularly allergic to juniper trees and grass. It was his desire to help himself and others that got Pollen Sense started.
The competitor’s process is too cumbersome, too large, too expensive and too limited, according to Bunderson.
Bunderson said that predicting pollen outbreaks for some companies is questionable at best. They often watch the uptick in allergy medicine sales such as Claritin or Allegra to predict there is an increase in airborne pollen.
“This (Pollen Sense) is good for any allergy sufferer,” Bunderson said. “You can tell the app ‘I feel miserable.’ The app knows and can then send you warnings (on particular pollens).”
While it is all automated, Allan said they built the library. That means they studied almost every form or airborne allergen and pollen, they know what each allergen looks like compared to other pollens and built the reference library for the app — no small task.
Pollen Sense is located in Provo and anticipates sales on an international level. They are filling several requests from civic and medical sources and are hoping to bring relief to individuals that can put the machine around their home so they can know in real time if it is a good air day to go outside.