CES Pro Tip From the Smart Home Expo: Breathe at Your Own Risk

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

An attendee uses a smartphone to take a photograph at a keynote presentation during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 6, 2015. This year's CES is packed with a wide array of gadgets such as drones, connected cars, a range of smart home technology designed to make everyday life more convenient and quantum dot televisions, which promise better color and lower electricity use in giant screens. Close

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Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

An attendee uses a smartphone to take a photograph at a keynote presentation during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 6, 2015. This year's CES is packed with a wide array of gadgets such as drones, connected cars, a range of smart home technology designed to make everyday life more convenient and quantum dot televisions, which promise better color and lower electricity use in giant screens.

Smart-home gadgets are a big draw at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. There's an entire section of a conference hall devoted to smart light bulbs, smart security cameras and other smart stuff, encompassing some 25,000 square feet of floor space in Las Vegas.

The promise of smart-home technology is not only to automate your thermostat and control the lights from a phone but to provide data about your surroundings. So we asked a few of the smart-home companies exhibiting at CES to use their instruments to measure the environment on the show floor, which opened its doors today. The results? Let's just say if the Sands Expo were a planet in "Interstellar," the astronauts wouldn't have bothered visiting.

"Air quality is pretty poor," says Lars Felber, a spokesman for Elgato Systems, a German smart-home electronics maker. "Lots of new carpets, paint, glue, people."

Elgato's booth is located deep inside an area that CES is calling the Smart Home Marketplace. The company used a prototype version of its product, the Eve Room, to measure air quality. In technical terms, the number of volatile organic compounds in the air surrounding the booth today was measured at 2,500 parts per million. A standard healthy home should should be between 500 and 1,000 ppm, Felber says. "So, at 2,500 ppm, you'd definitely want to let some air in and open a window."

Any crowded, indoor space will have worse air quality than a clean house. An event like CES, the world's largest annual conference with 160,000 attendees last year, can get particularly nasty because of all the booth construction and unboxing that take place in the days and hours before the show opens. Add to that the high frequency of handshaking, long work days and Vegas's endless partying, and you can probably figure out why everyone is sick on the flight home. The inevitable post-CES cold even has its own name: the nerd flu.

"The environment at events like CES is usually quite bad: very noisy, dry air and bad air due to big crowds," says Alja Isakovic, a spokeswoman for CubeSensors, which demonstrated its air-quality monitor at CES last year. She says air conditions last year were similarly bad, according to the company's measurements at its booth. (Props to Almar Latour from the Wall Street Journal for pointing out the bad air at this year's show.)

For CES attendees in need of a breath of fresh air, there are safe zones. Withings used its home-monitoring device to measure the air around its booth at CES today. The Withings Home tracked volatile organic compounds at 638 ppm near the booth, which is located in Sands near the entrance. It makes sense that air near the doors would be more breathable than in the middle of a packed convention hall, unless you're in, say, Beijing.

CES isn't the most toxic place you could go as far as air quality is concerned. A particularly gross public restroom can go as high as 5,000 ppm, according to Felber. The difference is, you probably don't spend eight hours on the can.

If you're feeling lightheaded as you wander the CES show floor, just make your way over to the south hall. Belkin International is demoing smart air purifiers at its booth.

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