Researchers at the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science have kitted out a Roomba — you know, one of those robotic vacuum cleaners that cats ride around on and act out Citizen Kane — to evaluate air quality. Lights on the Roomba indicate the presence of evaporated alcohol, and a long-exposure photo, above, can show which parts of a room are clean and which are fumey. Blue lights in the above photo mean that the robot detected polluted air.

A roving robot could give a better sense of a room's air quality than a stationary sensor, and researchers plan to outfit future Roombas with the ability to detect other air quality hazards such as formaldehyde. (No, they're not worried about rogue morticians — formaldehyde is present in a lot of wood furniture and can exacerbate asthma.)

If you want to test your own air, get ready to shoo that cat off the Roomba — the lab is developing DIY instructions for making one of their air-quality testing bots.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.