Empowering millions of New Yorkers to reclaim the waterfront
With near-real-time data on the water quality of the East River, our new pioneering dashboard demystifies what it means to interact with water in a major global city.
What’s turbidity? What’s pH? How does sewage affect our ability to swim? Water quality data is complex but doesn’t have to be hard to understand. The nonprofit organization + POOL wanted to change New Yorkers’ dated perceptions on the city’s water quality (it’s much better than we think!) and came to Reaktor for a product that could visualize complicated live water quality research in an engaging, fun, and approachable manner.
Our challenge was to combine multiple real-time data sources into one dynamic dashboard; to electrify the water quality information and help it reach the masses. The new, breakthrough water quality dashboard designed and developed by Reaktor for + POOL, in collaboration with the scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, is a state-of-the-art data visualization tool. Our website informs the public on when the water in the East River is good, bad, or something in between, and represents a pioneering effort in bridging the needlessly-large gap between wild nature and urban habitat. The technology built by us also fuels a floating light installation in the East River that changes color based on real-time water quality.
How it works
A water quality sonde installed at New York City’s Pier 17 collects real-time data, feeding it into an algorithm, where it is then merged with two other independent data sources.
The dashboard at water.pluspool.org draws on the algorithm to provide the public with a top-level report on the state of the water (is it good, bad, or something in between?). The site breaks down the components that go into that analysis, from bacteria levels to water temperature.
The dashboard’s analysis powers live updates online along with a light installation floating in the East River, visually alerting New Yorkers in real-time of any changes to the city’s water quality.
The dashboard appeals both to those looking for a surface-level glimpse into water quality as well as those looking to delve into the ways water quality data is collected and evaluated. With clear language and warm and welcoming visuals, our dashboard is a fun and approachable learning tool for everyone, regardless of background.
The dashboard not only visualizes water quality data in a digestible way for the general population, but also – through tools like the site’s data overlays – broadcasts water quality data for scientific research purposes. A public good, our dashboard is designed to educate everyone from a 7-year-old working on their first school science project all the way up to a seasoned 68-year-old city-kayaking enthusiast hoping to navigate the city’s waters.
Our website is a resource for all New Yorkers, giving millions of people who live in the metropolis a chance to better familiarize themselves with the city’s nature. Surveys of public perception of the rivers around NYC reveal that many New Yorkers have a negative perception of their city’s rivers. A major objective of the project then is to physically demonstrate to New Yorkers that the city’s water is not as bad as people might think, and when it is bad, to explain why that is, motivating New Yorkers to take full ownership of and action over the city’s waters.
In the future, New York City could be dotted with thousands of water quality sondes, all feeding information onto the dashboard. The technology behind it is built to scale across neighborhoods, cities, and countries. In New York, people could use it to check their local water quality reports before heading out to the beach, or jumping into the soon-to-be floating swimming pool in the East River.
The + POOL Dashboard is a pro bono project for Reaktor, and a major investment for the company. Whether it is free platforms for AI education, or the dissemination of water quality data to all New Yorkers, Reaktor specializes in world-changing work. Our employees are committed to positive social change and projects that use technology as a force for good.
Quicker, clearer information directly to the public
The technology behind the dashboard
In the past, there have been significant time lags and other barriers in delivering water quality data to the public. Scientists have had to collect a sample, bring it to a lab, and only then be able to analyze that data.
The + POOL dashboard differs from traditional data collection methods in that it draws on several points of live data – from river water to rainfall inputs – to then feed an algorithm that provides the public with near real-time reports on water quality. Updating with fresh data every 6 to 15 minutes, the + POOL dashboard predicts bacteria levels and thereby cuts the average time lag in water quality reporting by nearly 24 hours.