Q: Are the bells still up?
Sort of! There are bells that you can visit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and at the Chabot Space Center, the Lake Merrit Nature Center, and the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project in Oakland. The bells are no longer networked and reading global CO2 data but they are still actively sounding out local particulate matter readings.
Q: How did this project come about?
Mutual Air was produced from an Artist in Residence project by Rosten Woo and the Exploratorium. Mutual Air is a work of experimental infrastructure designed to give presence to this global and local infrastructure of measuring. To make the colletion of data about our air and climate present in our lives.
The project is inspired by the role of church bells, or the call to prayer (regulating and synchronizing life in a village) and the wind chime. Mutual Air seeks to create small ambient reminders of the world that surrounds us.
Mutual Air is also produced in partnership with WOEIP and seeks to give a public presence to the idea of local community-monitoring - particularly in the West Prescott neighborhood where diesel trucks create a persistent effect on air quality.
Q: Can I get a bell? Can I bring this project to my town?
While the underlying techonology is simple and inexpensive. The scale of coordination between the parts, the siting of bells, and tuning of the sensors is complex and site specific. We are working on an open-source guide to help other places produce similar projects. But we don’t presently have the capacity to restage the project.
Q: How do the bells work exactly?
Volunteers agreed to host bells for a period of six months. An outreach team with local credibility worked for six months to identify volunteers in meaningful public locations. Each bell contained a Planteuer 2500 particulate matter sensor and a microcontroller that connected to data streams provided by NOAA. The chimes are triggered mechanically by a magnetic striker. As PM activity increases, the magnetic striker is energized. Twice a day Global C02 data is received from NOAA and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography
Q: Where can I get data about my air?
The proliferation of low-cost PM sensors means that there are many ways to stay up to date about your general regional air quality. We recommend checking purpleair for air quality information. To monitor short and long-term trends with CO2 (aka climate quality - we recommend visiting NOAA or the UC Santa Cruz air lab.
Q: Didn’t the sound get annoying?
Sometimes! The project launched just before a very intense fire season in the Bay Area and some of the chimes were running nearly non-stop for a few weeks. They were tuned to respond to more subtle air variations to show differences in air quality between, say, neighborhoods near diesel truck routes, or certain times of day in downtown Oakland – but when smoke filled the entire bay – these differences were harder to detect. Another effect of the constant erosion of our shared resource.