Kuanze Ma was a student in his dorm room in Beijing when one day he suddenly started experiencing difficulty in breathing. His roommates had left the room’s windows open and the city’s notoriously smoky air had filled the room, causing stress on his already week respiratory system.

A few years since then, he finds himself an entrepreneur and co-founder of a startup in Chicago leveraging internet of things technologies to develop smart, connected products for personal health. Specifically, his company, ORIHD, has developed what it claims is the world’s first portable air purifier that supplies clean, breathable air and doubles as a smart face mask and wearable device. Additionally, it syncs up easily with a mobile handset via Bluetooth technology and provides real-time information on surrounding air quality.

ORIHD dock combining the detachable face mask and air purifier.

The product is available as a two-piece set, including a mask and a purifier which can be combined easily into one docked product. This dock contains ultraviolet light which sterilizes the internal side of the mask, thus making it safer to wear. While indoors, one can set the purifier on a table or desk and it fills the room with clean air devoid of particulates. When detached and used as a mask, the product’s “smart” sensors detect when its filter has reached its shelf life and needs replacement, alerting both the user’s mobile phone and ORIHD. Among the data the purifier collects and displays on air quality include the amount of particulates in the air, composition of gases, and GPS-enabled statistics on the surrounding geographical area.

While Ma is motivated to work on the issue because of the air quality back home, ORIHD (which is short for “Original High Definition”) is also strategically looking at vulnerable communities in the United States, buoyed by recent data suggesting that a staggering 127 million Americans are at risk of harmful effects from pollen and air pollution. “Clean quality air is something we often take for granted in the absence of visible air pollution,” he says.

ORIHD mobile platform

Ma came to Chicago as a student of Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Law program, which specifically aims to engage students in legal aspects of technology-driven entrepreneurial ventures. His founding team is comprised of an engineering PhD student and graduate students in Marketing and Communications, all of whom collaborated in Northwestern’s multidisciplinary entrepreneurial ventures class, NUVention.

Ma and his team haven’t finalized pricing for the product yet but they’re looking at about $25 for just the filter and around $125 for the docking system. He also says his product has a competitive advantage: “Other mask companies are making more high-end, fashionable masks. While we aren’t compromising on design, we want to make our product more affordable because clean air is a universal concern,” he said.

Based at Northwestern’s Garage incubator and co-working space for student startups, ORIHD completed the summer Wildfire summer accelerator program. The company is looking to continue verifying its product’s proof of concept via 3D-printing for the second prototype. It has also connected with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America working towards a long-term partnership, as well as filed one provisional patent for their technology.