The +POOL Light changes color depending on the health of the East River. The installation tracks the water’s health using a specially made algorithm. (Image credit: Playlab Inc)


A new art installation in New York City is more than just an odd attraction to take a selfie in front of. A new floating sculpture, called +POOL Light, recently appeared in the East River off Pier 17. Looking like a giant illuminated ‘X’ the installation is actually a way to determine the safety of the water.


Created by Playlab Inc and Family New York, the sculpture shows you the water quality in the East River using LED lights. When the water is safe, the 50x50 feet piece glows blue, but it turns teal when the sensors detect pathogens in the water. When the water is unsafe for recreational use, the lights will turn pink. The lights also change direction according to the water’s currents: they turn clockwise when flowing north and counterclockwise when flowing south. The levels of oxygen, turbidity, and pH of the water are determined by the brightness, frequency, and sharpness of the lights.


So how does the sculpture determine all this information? By a site-specific algorithm that was created by Shawnee Traylor, a science and technology advisor for the project. The algorithm predictively measures the water’s quality based on historical data. The technology behind the algorithm, the ALERT system by Fluidion, was developed in Paris, France, with one of the first applications at Le Bassin de la Villette, which opened for public swimming in 2017. The technology contains water quality testing within a single portable unit, making it possible to collect and analyze the data more quickly.



“For the light sculpture specifically, we built an algorithm that is based off of precipitation. Every time it rains our rain gauge records how much precipitation fell. One of the primary controls [of fecal bacteria] in New York City waterways are the Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO)," said Traylor. “How much area that covers depends on the flow of the water. One thing that's kind of unique about New York's waterways is that the direction of the tide can switch quite often, sometimes twice a day. So that can tell you the different water masses that are mixing and causing your local water quality.”


Considering the size and population of New York, it’s easy to assume that results have revealed a dirty truth about their water’s health. Luckily, this isn’t the case. Traylor reports that the water is much healthier than most people think. This is in part due to how the changing currents and flow of the water at Pier 17 flush out potential contaminants.


The team behind the project hopes the sculpture will increase awareness about public access to the city’s waterfront. They’re hoping it’ll lead to more conversations about the health of the water. And this is just the beginning. The +POOL Light is part of an ongoing effort to create a self-filtering +POOL that would float in the East River.


The installation will be floating in the East River until January 3, 2020.


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