From kites to cars: tackling air pollution with design

The Index Project

Weird and wonderful solutions to improve our global air quality

Float kites, From the collection of: The Index Project
Float Beijing
Beijing locals use kites for answers on air pollution
FLOAT smog, From the collection of: The Index Project

Though the poor air quality of Beijing is hardly a secret, in 2012 the Chinese government controversially censored several foreign embassies for making such information public. Due to this lack of transparency, many residents remained imprisoned indoors for fear of respiratory illnesses.

Float Beijing context, From the collection of: The Index Project

FLOAT Beijing is an initiative enabling the city’s citizens to take matters into their own hands. Using kites equipped with air quality sensors, users were able to monitor their local aerial environment themselves.

FLOAT kite with man, From the collection of: The Index Project

Designed by students Xiaowei Wang from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Deren Guler from Carnegie Mellon, FLOAT Beijing combines technology, design, environmental activism and the local tradition of kite-flying.

FLOAT kite construction, From the collection of: The Index Project

Using a combination of DIY electronics workshops and group kite-flights, local residents were actively engaged in the entire process. The modules use Arduino, an open-source platform used for building electronics, and are relatively easy to put together.

FLOAT in testing, From the collection of: The Index Project

The LEDs on the hand-built kites are programmed to indicate air quality in different colours; green being the best and pink being the worst.

FLOAT attaching module, From the collection of: The Index Project

"The idea is to give people the tools for knowledge," says Guler. "It’s citizen-science – that’s the main goal. We’re trying to interact with people on the street and see what they’re trying to do with the information they see."

Four months after the launch of the project, the Chinese government began to release air quality information and plans to lower pollution levels. Many community groups, from Poland, India, Hungary and the US, have since contacted the designers to replicate the project in their local communities.

Woobi Play complete, From the collection of: The Index Project
Woobi Play
The anti-pollution mask designed to meet kids at eye-level
Woobi Play smog in Beijing, From the collection of: The Index Project

Globally, more than 300 million children live in areas where the outdoor air pollution is six or more times higher than the recommended international guidelines. China is one of the worst areas, where many children grow up with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Woobi Play complete on white background, From the collection of: The Index Project

While many nations are working to cap air pollution levels, temporary protective solutions are desperately needed. Woobi Play, by Kilo Design and Airmotion Laboratories, is a modular pollution mask that fits into a kid’s universe while still performing at a professional level.

Woobi Play with white background, From the collection of: The Index Project

The mask, suitable for kids from six years old, filters at least 95% of dangerous airborne particulate matter. It comes disassembled and encourages kids and parents to build the product together.

Woobi Play components, From the collection of: The Index Project

The assembly process helps kids to understand how the product works. The different coloured parts act as a simplifying tool for communication around the product’s functionality and allow kids to customise the mask the way they like it, giving them a sense of ownership and autonomy.

Woobi Play on user, From the collection of: The Index Project

Launched in China last year, Woobi Play has since sold more than 12,000 masks. More than 3,000 registered users have also interacted with the design company to learn about air pollution and how to protect their children. This initiatives also serves as a means for improving the design.

Air-Ink, From the collection of: The Index Project
AIR INK™
The first ink made entirely out of air pollution
Air-Ink with car exhaust, From the collection of: The Index Project

Rapid industrialisation, high rates of car ownership and dependency on coal power have made Asia one of the world's most notoriously polluted regions. Soot is the major byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels, and according to research, can cause premature death.

Air-ink with paper, From the collection of: The Index Project

AIR INK™ is a creative solution to wicked problem. It’s soot captured before it reaches our lungs and transformed into safe, water-resistant markers and screen printing ink.

Air Ink Kaalink Technology, From the collection of: The Index Project

While cheaper carbon black inks are manufactured through the burning of fossil fuels, AIR INK™ uses a proprietary device called KAALINK to capture soot that is already being emitted from vehicles.

Air Ink Kaalink Technology, From the collection of: The Index Project

KAALINK is retrofitted to the exhaust pipe of vehicles, generators or the chimneys of factories to capture outgoing pollutants. Once captured, the urban particulate matter is carefully detoxified from heavy metals and particle carcinogens.

Air-Ink product shots with details, From the collection of: The Index Project

It takes just 45 minutes worth of vehicular emissions to produce 1 fluid ounce of ink – enough for one refillable pen.

Air-Ink artist, From the collection of: The Index Project

AIR INK™ has reportedly cleaned about 1.6 trillion litres of air in Asia. The pollutants, which could have been in the lungs of millions of people, are now beautifully resting as art.

Tesla Roadster, From the collection of: The Index Project
Tesla Roadster
The icon that made electric cars cool
Tesla Roadster context, From the collection of: The Index Project

Electric vehicle (EV) technology dates as far back as 1830, however, it wasn't until the 1970’s that commercial vehicles were produced. Several prominent car companies, including BMW and Italian company Zagato, released their own unique versions of EVs. Many were made but very few were sold.

Tesla Roadster context, From the collection of: The Index Project

While there are many reasons to speculate why they didn’t take off, it’s clear that they were generally viewed as slow boxy golf carts with little style or appeal.

Tesla Roadster top view, From the collection of: The Index Project

Launched in 2008, the Tesla Roadster challenged all perceptions of the EV. It was the first entirely electric vehicle with zero emissions and zero-to-100 km/h acceleration in four seconds.

Tesla Roadster context, From the collection of: The Index Project

The Roadster is the first electric vehicle to incorporate a 350 km range per charge. The battery recharges in 3.5 hours and has a fuel efficiency equivalent to almost 60 kilometres per litre. Due to its mileage, driving the Roadster will actually cost less than one cent per kilometre.

Normally, a new car brand penetrates the market at a relatively affordable mid-level price. However, to rid electric cars of their dull reputations and make them objects of desire, the Roaster targeted the high-end market.

Tesla Roadster back view, From the collection of: The Index Project

While only about 2400 of them were sold, branding the Roadster a commercial disaster, the vehicle had succeeded in making sustainability sexy.

Tesla Roadster founder Elon Musk at TED, From the collection of: The Index Project

And many argue that without the Roadster, Tesla might not be as successful and certainly not as glorified as it is today.

Tesla Roadster front view, From the collection of: The Index Project

Now, 12 years on, Tesla Motors has released several more cost-effective, electric vehicles for the more average consumer. And by 2020, the company plans to launch it’s newest and most ambitious design yet, which reviews are hailing as "the supercar to end all supercars".

Nikola on road, From the collection of: The Index Project
Nikola One
The truck pioneering a cleaner logistics industry
Nikola highways, From the collection of: The Index Project

Diesel trucks move a majority of the world’s goods more efficiently than any other vehicle type. However, diesel emissions are one of the largest contributors to environmental pollution and, additionally, are known to cause cardiovascular and respiratory disease and cancer.

Nikola unveiling under blue lights, From the collection of: The Index Project

Launched in 2017, the zero-emissions Nikola One truck aims to eventually replace these heavily polluting vehicles entirely. It’s the first hydrogen-fueled electric semi-truck that's been dubbed the "iPhone of trucking”.

Nikola unveiling, From the collection of: The Index Project

The Nikola One's energy is supplied on-the-go by a hydrogen fuel cell giving the truck a range of 1200-1900 kilometres and has a freight efficiency 75% greater than a diesel truck.

Nikola inside, From the collection of: The Index Project

The company says the truck will take just 15 minutes to refuel compared to conventional plug-in EVs, which take at least an hour to charge. In addition, Nikola plans to build over 300 hydrogen stations to allow its trucks to travel across the US as the first go-to-market country.

Nikola One, From the collection of: The Index Project

As the Nikola Motor Company pushes forward with its first delivery, they plan to build a $1 billion factory in Phoenix, US. So far, more 8,000 trucks have been ordered and the company also recently revealed the Nikola Two truck design.

Credits: Story

FLOAT Beijing, Air Motion, Kilo Design, NOAA, Graviky Labs, Tesla Motors, Greg Gjerdingen, Craig Morey, Nikola Motor Company and INDEX: Design to Improve Life®

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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