Beijing has some of the worst air quality in the world; conditions were so bad earlier this year that levels soared beyond the range of the US embassy’s air quality index. In an effort to more accurately record air conditions in the Chinese capital, a pair of students launched FLOAT, an open-source project that invites Beijing residents to use kites equipped with air quality sensors to measure the amount of pollution in the air. The results can then be mapped, producing a better understanding of what’s in the air at any given time. This inspiring project was recently nominated as a finalist for the 2013 Index: Award.

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Reporting air quality is very politically charged in China, but the FLOAT empowers Beijing residents to monitor their local conditions by flying kites equipped with air quality sensors. The project was launched last year by students Xiaowei Wang from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Deren Guler from Carnegie Mellon.

Each kite will be rigged up with a microcontroller that will contain sensors for pollutants lik volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. The data will then be mapped, using Google Maps or another mapping program, to show air quality results in specific areas. The kites will also include LED lights that will change to red, yellow or green depending on pollution levels.

“We’re trying to interact with people on the street and see what they’re trying to do with the information they see,” writes Guler. “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.”

Last year, the FLOAT project received funding through Kickstarter, and it also received grants from The Awesome Foundation and the Black Rock Arts Foundation. The project was recently named a finalist in the 2013 INDEX Awards.


+ Index: Award