Developing a mobile sports app and mask that combats city smog for health-conscious urbanites

From a fashionable Covid-19 mask to a data-informed novel sports accessory that helps to stay fit and protects you from air pollution.

Simple product idea with two significant pivots

The three founders of Urbaner – a European startup – had envisioned an innovative smart anti-smog face mask with changeable filters for active, health-conscious urbanites living in city areas with high air pollution.

The product they wanted to create was to filter out the PM 2.5 and PM 10 harmful air particles from the air. The concept was based on measuring the user’s respiration rate to determine how much pollution they avoided while wearing the mask during sports activities. The big idea was not only to protect but also to inform and guide the users.

Unexpected turn of events

However, with the unexpected outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, their business model and plans required an immediate change. They had to pivot from creating an intelligent mask with digital functions to a stylish and practical face mask for everyday wear. The new benefit was simply increasing your safety outdoors and making you look chic. This worked well.

After the worst time of the pandemic, the demand for everyday face masks dropped drastically, so they pivoted straight back to the original idea. Their new cover had two HEPA filters with an FFP2 filtering standard, filtering out up to 95,8% of harmful particles. On top of it, they used locally-sourced materials for the production, which customers welcomed. This was not all, however, what the founders envisioned…

Enriching the physical product with data

Founders also wanted to inform their customers about the amount of pollution avoided during their busy times due to wearing masks. To make it even more punchy, they also aimed to show how much-polluted air you’d avoid as an equivalent of unsmoked cigarettes.

This has proven not to be a trivial task. Many city landscapes are very unevenly polluted, with parks and hills offering some respite. In contrast, the immediately neighbouring busy downtown streets provide a heavy dose of pollution, depending on wind direction and weather conditions. A geolocation of the user’s path and quite precise local pollution statistics were needed to provide correct information.

Mobile apps to the rescue

An app development connected to the mask and external data sources were needed. Our team has been thus tasked with delivering the mobile Urbaner applications for iOS and Android. The app aimed to collect and store data on air pollution and give feedback to its users regarding the total decay avoided thanks to wearing the mask.

Moreover, Urbaner required extremely fast time-to-market to quickly pivot back to its original idea after accommodating other needs during the worst time of the Covid-19 pandemic. Two pivots have understandably put a heavy dent in their runway, and needed a comeback with a bang.

We advised on the best, most helpful technology to accomplish that and went with React Native. The advantages of this approach were significant:

  • Code reusability for easy app creation on different platforms (Android and iOS in our case)

  • UI-focused for seamless user experience

  • It makes the integration of third-party plugins and other apps easy

Our apps, available for free download for Android and iOS, excelled, receiving 5/5 App store review ratings (Apple and Google). As extra features, the apps also displayed the filter and the battery status, allowing the wearer to replace it strictly when required. It also recorded the duration of the activities the user performed and kept track of the history and user’s performance to assist in training.

Data collection for supporting the app users

Our developers have built the data-gathering backend platform for Urbaner since the mask was not equipped with suitable sensors. To get precise pollution data, we proposed and implemented an integration with the Airly crowd-sourced city pollution monitoring system and the municipal open data platforms to fetch current particle levels and CAQI scores gathered by the nearest sensors. 

These integrations allowed receiving the correct air pollution information for the specific location, which added much-needed context to the geographical differences in the landscape.

Our engineers proposed architecture based on the modern backend cloud computing architecture utilising Google Firebase. This allowed the client to:

  • Being a part of Google will enable access to extensive and reliable databases

  • Seamless integration with Google Analytics

  • Versatile cloud messaging for cross-platform use

A smart physical product empowered by a data-informed mobile app for major mobile platforms

Racing against time, our team flawlessly delivered a complete app that complimented the physical product beautifully, taking the user’s experience to the next level. The data-rich integrations with external systems empowered the users to understand more about the environment they train in daily.

After the app development processes and launch, the client planned to bring their product to a broader audience worldwide to make it a global solution (which included Dubai). Ultimately, they exited to a Polish serial entrepreneur before going global, which was a happy ending to the tumultuous seed stage of this exciting startup.

Technological milestones and for the development of apps and features

  • Adopting React Native allowed developers to create a modular and intuitive environment that is easy to modify. It also offers strong performance in mobile environments with strong code reusability

  • Using Firebase BaaS help to speed up the development and streamline the development tasks to frontend, to ensure the fast time-to-market for the product would be achieved

  • Ongoing full support on launch to iron out all the post-launch quirks

Technologies and integrations applied

React Native

Firebase BaaS

Google Play (Android) integration

Apple iOS integration

Airly integration

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