A new type of wearable device can detect and measure in real time particulate matter in the air around you. (UBS)

Allergy season is here, and many people will face symptoms like sneezing and itchy eyes. Meanwhile, car pollution is a year-round stressor, and contributes to asthma and bronchitis. How can one escape what's in the air? Well, maybe we can't fully escape, but we can discover the toxicity levels of the air in different places, and make decisions based on such information.

In recent years, wearable devices have been created to test air quality. Bloomberg notes these sensors are able to detect and measure in real time particulate matter in the air, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), along with air pressure, UV and carbon-dioxide equivalent CO2eq, a unit for measuring the global-warming potential of different greenhouse gases. These “wearables”, such as Airbeam2, Atmotube Plus, and Pico, can be strapped onto bags or clothing, and they connect to smartphones where air data is tracked. Prices for these range from $99 to $249.

Innovations like these reflect a growing concern about pollution. According to the UBS Chief Investment Office (CIO), global population and urbanization are increasing demand for energy which is still largely generated from fossil fuel. Clean air and carbon reduction is one of CIO's long-term investment (LTI) themes, and focuses on investment opportunities in clean-air technologies or energy efficiency.

CIO projects cumulative investments above $35 trillion between 2015 and 2030 in areas like clean-air technologies or energy efficiency. Technological progress and falling costs of clean-air and carbon-reducing technologies are two near-term drivers of this theme. Long-term investors could consider renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage, clean fuels, emission control technology, and carbon capture/storage, according to CIO.

Meanwhile, wearables are connected to HealthTech, a CIO LTI theme which identifies technologies and markets linked by the aim of making healthcare more efficient. The ability to store, retrieve and analyze health data electronically is at the core of the HealthTech theme. “Wearables” allow people to regularly or constantly track health and other lifestyle data. Currently, they are mostly used for general fitness tracking, but greater incorporation of medical grade sensors could help support various remote monitoring and treatment services, according to CIO analysts Lachlan Towart and Sundeep Gantori.

Wearables are just one component of the HealthTech theme, which also includes population health software, telemedicine, and AI-assisted diagnostic imaging. CIO estimates current markets linked to HealthTech to be worth over USD 100bn. The potential addressable market for newer technology applications is large but uncertain. CIO recommends a diversified portfolio approach to investing in HealthTech. Long-term investors could consider direct investments through private equity to capture an illiquidity premium.

Read more about: Clean air and carbon reduction, March 2019, and HealthTech, 28 June 2018.

Main contributor: Louise Bylicki