Featured Eminent Speaker of ACM India: Ronak Sutaria

The ACM India Eminent Speaker Program (ESP) provides ACM Student and Professional chapters and institutional partners in India with direct access to top technology leaders, innovators and researchers who will give talks on contemporary and engaging issues that are important to the computing community. Chapters can invite ESP speakers to give talks as part of events that they hold. ACM India will help cover the costs for travel while the local chapter will arrange accommodation and local logistics. While most of the talks should be in-person to encourage interactions, some of the talks may be done virtually. For more details, see the ACM India ESP Page


Ronak Sutaria is the Founder and CEO of Mumbai-based start-up Respirer Living Sciences. In December 2015, Ronak was amongst the earliest technology researchers to build and deploy the first ever low-cost air quality sensor network nationwide. His company specializes in IoT and Big Data powered technologies for urban and rural data-driven policy research. Ronak collaborated with India’s foremost research organizations, including IIT Kanpur, Microsoft Research India, and Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, in an effort to bring unparalleled scientific rigor to his work. These partnerships remain steadfast, resulting in the building and scaling of India’s first scientifically calibrated, low-cost IoT sensor-based AQ monitoring network. Today, Ronak is one of the foremost experts on micro-particle sensor technology and is a prominent industry voice on affordable, scalable AQ monitoring in India. The work has also been instrumental in bringing together air quality researchers, IoT and Big Data technologists, public health practitioners, and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) policy researchers to explore the potential of this technology to solve one of the most pressing climate issues of our time.

Please share a little about your organization and your team at Respirer Living Sciences.

Respirer Living Sciences Pvt. Ltd. is an award-winning Climate Tech startup from India and a pioneer in scalable air quality monitoring and reporting technologies in the country. We offer a range of scientifically validated services, from producing AI-driven, IoT and sensor-based air quality monitors to providing actionable data to governments, industries and citizens. Our emission monitors are low-cost; our air quality solutions, high-tech and AI-driven. Our monitors measure greenhouse gases as well as the most important toxic criteria pollutants like PM2.5, NO2, CO, SO2, O3, carbon dioxide, and methane. Importantly, we are committed to achieving cleaner air and accelerating the transition to cleaner energy.

Respirer was formally incorporated in April 2017, but our work on air quality sensors and climate data began in early 2015. By 2016, we had worked with the Government of Delhi to install 50 air quality sensors across the national capital. Between 2017 and 2023, the number of air quality monitors we deployed went from 150 to over 2,500. Today, we have clients in more than 25 Indian cities and in countries such as Sweden, UK, Oman, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We are also an industry technology partner to the Government of India (GOI)-supported Centre of Excellence ATMAN on Clean Air Technologies, established in October 2022 at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur by the Principal Scientific Advisor to the GOI. A wide range of stakeholders, including government pollution regulators, aerosol scientists, industrial emissions monitors, sustainability researchers as well as communities and citizens use and rely on our air quality monitoring solutions. With our commitment to providing accurate and reliable air quality data, we strive to make a positive impact on the health and well-being of people and the environment.

What motivated you to build an independent air-quality monitoring system in India?

We launched our first independent wireless sensor-based air-quality network in Dec 2015. At that time, there was only around 200+ government run air quality monitors for over 1.4 billion Indian people with a few more monitors run independently by the US Embassy & Consulates. There were some media reports which talked of an “Apocalyptic air pollution” situation in Delhi. We received funding from a Policy Research think-tank based in Mumbai to deploy the first network for 50 monitors across Delhi. The response we received completely took us by surprise – as there was wide interest in sensor-based AQ monitoring from top scientific researchers, policy makers, journalists, industry and several other sections of society. We realized that the government monitors which costs Rs. 1.5 Cr ($200K) is not going to meet the needs and requirements of all the urban cities and rural towns of India. Hence, an independent network is the only way that data and information about air quality and air pollution can be truly democratised across India - in a way that the same technology and data is available from the most vulnerable people to the most economically strong industries.

Along with the need for democratisation of air quality data, the technology required around IoT, sensors and wireless low-power data had also reached a point where low-cost solutions could be developed which provided scientifically accurate and relevant solutions. I had received hands-on experience with Embedded OS and Low-Power routing protocols which are relevant in deploying a nationwide IoT-Sensor based monitoring system. The need of nationwide data along-with the experience of deploying this technology at scale can be the motivating factors behind building an independent air quality monitoring system in India.

Could you share some of the challenges faced in terms of funding or operational aspects in building your startup and taking it across different states in India at scale?

From an operational aspect – building and running an IoT-focused startup in air quality requires bringing together people with 5 to 6 different skillsets. We need electronic design skills, firmware and edge computing developers, people with consumer electronics production/testing experience, full stack computer science engineers and DevOps experience as well as AI/ML and computational data sciences. Finally, we need people with domain knowledge of climate sciences and air pollution. Building a strong team with diverse technical skills under one roof has been a challenging experience.

Once the team and product has been developed, there have been several government regulatory and compliance challenges when one is working in the space of pollution control and compliance monitoring. When the technology matures and is found to be effectively able to track pollutant emissions, the implications of that work are significant from the perspective of regulatory fines imposed by the pollution control boards on repeat industry offenders. Hence, there is also a need to understand policy and regulations when working with data at scale. From a funding perspective – given that this work is not consumer facing and tends to involve some amount of government projects and compliances, funding has been difficult to raise. We have received interest from few agencies and closed funding from a few government-based funding programs. We are in conversations with a few more investor-led funding sources and would be hoping to close our next funding round in the coming six months.

What is one example of exciting work being done in your organization that will have a significant impact in the coming years?

Our team at Respirer has developed advanced AI and ML based calibration models of improving the accuracy and precision of data from air quality sensors for all the important toxic criteria pollutants like PM2.5, NO2, CO, SO2 and O3. We are developing advanced low-cost monitoring technology for all the above parameters which will allow city governments, industries, and citizens to track pollution from these parameters in real-time and at a hyper-local scale. We are also developing innovative solutions which combine tracking indoor air quality levels in places like schools, hospitals, office buildings (and even public buses) and looking at how to optimise energy consumption patterns for cooling these indoor environments and how to optimise these indoor environments via more adaptive indoor air quality and occupancy monitoring. Besides air quality, our team is also building expertise in other advanced low-power IoT technologies like cellular NBIoT (Narrow Band IoT) which will allow devices to transmit data for nearly 1 year on a single battery charge. Low-powered IoT data transmission technologies can fundamentally alter the way IoT-sensor monitoring is done when spread over large geographically spatial and temporally multi-year field deployment projects.

How has being part of ACM ESP been a rewarding experience for you?

ACM is a highly respected association in our field. The ESP program provides an opportunity to engage with young students who are just getting started with their career in computer science and particularly in IoT. The ACM ESP program enables interactions with young students where we (at Respirer) can share about the work we are doing, the technical challenges that we face in our day-to-day work and how the students can engage with us in learning more about the work related to using IoT in air quality. The interactions also allow us to share our experiences of running a startup in the field of IoT-based technologies and what can the students expect when they choose to work in a startup Vs when they are working in a more established technology company. I have done one ACM ESP talk so far and it was a good experience.

If your ACM Chapter would like to invite Ronak Sutaria to give a talk on any of these or relevant topics, please follow the guidelines for inviting an ESP Speaker available here :

  • Using Climate-focused Technologies (ClimateTech) for tracking and improving air quality
  • Use of large-scale emissions data from industries in context of ESG frameworks
  • Building ClimateTech startups in a non-supportive regulatory framework in India

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