Kite-Mounted DIY Pollution Sensors Over Beijing

Air quality in Beijing is an increasingly well known problem, but trust in official data is low and the US Embassy’s @BeijingAir Twitter service has its own shortcomings. A pair of Carnegie Mellon University graduate students, Deren Guler and Xiaowei Wang, aim to put air monitoring into locals’ own hands using kite-mounted sensors. The project is within 20% of its $2,500 crowdfunding target on Kickstarter with one week left to go. From Kickstarter, via Mara Hvistendahl:

Urban air quality is a serious issue that affects rapidly industrializing cities globally, and within Beijing as the capital of China, it is an issue kept quiet by the government under fear of criticism and protest from the public. At the same time, there is ample opportunity to use cheap, easily accessible microcontroller technology for grassroots air quality mapping. We see the traditional art of kite flying as an immense opportunity to pair it with microcontroller technology in order to give agency to local residents in understanding urban air quality.

[…] A series of 3 workshops + group kite flights will be held in Beijing, with outreach to Beijing neighborhood groups and organizations. Together, the community will be able to design and make kites in which the sensing modules are attached, learn more about air quality monitoring, and the technology behind it. After the workshops, a group night time kite flight will take place. Due to light and air pollution, it is extremely difficult to see stars in the Beijing night sky. These kites will appear not only as indicators of urban air pollution, but also a strong visual and sensory experience. As our project is public art, it also brings together people from all walks of life — from old kite masters in Beijing, to young environmentalists, to participate and make the final public art piece together.

Guler further explained the project’s aims to Julie Ma at GOOD Environment:

“It’s citizen-science—that’s the main goal,” Guler says. “We’re trying to interact with people on the street and see what they’re trying to do with the information they see. I don’t plan to argue that this is the most accurate data because there are many potential reasons for differences in air quality reports. We want to just keep it up, upload the data, and focus on that more after we come back.”

July 11, 2012 11:39 PM
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