Friday Fun: Kite-mounted air quality monitoring with F-L-O-A-T

f-l-o-a-t staff crafting an emissions tracker kite. Photo by Elizabeth Fung.

In 2008, Olympic cyclists from the United States arrived in Beijing wearing respiratory masks  due to perceived health risks from poor air quality. Air pollution has thusly presented a perennial diplomatic challenge in the rocky Sino-American relationship. This June -in a direct attack on the US Embassy, which has been releasing onsite air quality readings through a Twitter handle @beijingair–  Wu Xiaoqing, Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, noted in Xinhua that a foreign embassy’s monitoring and issuing of air quality data in China is technically inaccurate and goes against international conventions and Chinese laws (sic).

Recognizing this challenge as a space for international, creative community-building, Xiaowei Wang and Deren Güler organized f-l-o-a-t . From the website:

A participatory art/design/mapping project using air quality sensing kites. through the poetics + playfulness of kite flying, float sparks and initiates dialogue on urban environmental health issues, and gives agency to city dwellers to map, record and engage actively in the monitoring of their environment.

Through a series of workshops, participants put together circuit boards that recorded air quality readings, connected these sensors to a kite, and flew the kit hundreds of feet into the air to record air quality at the higher altitudes.

Kite flying is a very popular activity amongst retired-age Chinese men, so this aspect of the project provided for the involvement of a diverse group of participants.. Photo by Elizabeth Phung.

A report early this year by the Xinhua News Agency stated that the transport sector is responsible for over 22 percent of PM 2.5 in downtown Beijing, and thus the city will continue to invest in public transportation. The city, for example, plans to have 660 kilometers (410 miles) of subway lines in service by 2015, up from 372 kilometers (231 miles) in 2012. Monitoring air pollution is vital to addressing the direct effects of increasing motorization throughout China. Though measures are being taken to limit private autos in Chinese cities – responsible for so much of these urban emissions – sourcing emissions with hard data is a critical first step to reducing urban air pollution.



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