Eco-Artist Creates 'Puff' Device to Monitor Car Emissions

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The \'Puff\' car emission monitoring device, designed by Karolina Sobecka

Puff is attached near the exhaust pipe of your vehicle. Its color changes dynamically, visualizing the amount of pollution your car is producing. Green indicates the lowest rate of pollution, red the highest.

Modern artists have often tackled environmental and ecological issues head on, such as through incorporating litter and refuse into sculptures, while other artists (such as photo, video and film artists) have sought to document industrial waste and/or have taken strong oppositional/advocacy stances in their works.

In recent years, many artists have sought to move beyond these “reactive”, commentary, and  documentary approaches and create objects and devices that serve practical purposes (if still a bit fanciful in appearance). One such artist/designer is Karolina Sobecka, whose car emissions monitoring device, ‘Puff’ , provides colorful feedback to the car owner on how “cleanly” (or efficiently) he/she is using/burning gasoline.

This author recently contacted Ms. Sobecka and asked her about this device (‘Puff’) as well as her other designs, and her artistic/social/environmental goals.

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What is ‘Puff’ and what does it do?

Puff is the first in a series of accessories called Amateur Human.

Puff is attached to the frame of the car (for safety and stability).  It is installed near the exhaust pipe, but not directly on it.  The lamp element is detachable (with all the electronics), so you can take it home when you park the car.  It is powered from the car’s cigarette lighter, and uses energy-efficient LEDs. It is important that the driver can see the same visual emission-rate feedback. Right now we’re using an iPhone app for that, and considering an alternate small puff-shaped light.

Do you have plans to further develop or refine this “accessory”?

Right now we’re building and iPhone app which will provide both real-time visualization of the emissions for the driver and the accurate log of the drive data (fuel consumption and emissions of CO, HC, and NOx).

We will be building 2 versions of Puff.  In the first one, the fuel consumption and emissions calculations are based on the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer and speed data, which allows us to calculate the fuel consumption and emission rates based on energy and emissions models developed by the EPA, and specifically, a study by Ahn, Rakha, Trani, and Van Aerde.  This solution won’t be completely accurate due to such factors as drag coefficient, engine power and size of the car (when the user sets up his app, he’s asked to estimate these values for his car).

In the second version (which will be more expensive as it requires additional hardware and software), our iPhone app will communicate with the car’s computer and get real-time, fully accurate data about the fuel consumption, from which we can calculate the emission rate.

What is your philosophy or aesthetic (in regards to the Amateur Human designs)?

The designs personalize our relationship to the environment, and are meant to be playful, provocative, somewhat absurd on one hand and highly functional on the other hand.  The first designs are in prototyping and research phase, you can see the most recent developments here:

Will you be developing these accessories for the market place?

Amateur Human accessories are conceptual design proposals; they’re not going to be marketed and sold commercially. As Anthony Dunne calls it: “it’s design for debate”. I will create prototypes and post DIY instructions on the Amateur Human website together with documentation of use and information pertaining to environmental issues. Anyone can add or improve on them.  I hope that they will evolve to really reflect people’s desires, concerns and know-how.  I will also invite the public to submit their designs and I will lead public workshops where anyone can learn to put them together.

What do you seek to accomplish in your Amateur Human art/design work?

In this project, design is used as a strategy to explore the overlap between the material and immaterial worlds and spur discussion on the social and psychological mechanisms behind the cultural use of accessories as ‘objects to think with’.  This project is exploring design’s potential, to be subverted for more culturally beneficial ends — like art, to reflect on and display people’s desires and concerns, rather than capitalize on them.  Accessories are a special category of material culture objects:  they embody the most irrational and psychological needs.  Amateur Human focuses on the environmental issues since we all are inadvertently becoming more eco-conscious whether we want to or not, and these issues seem both overwhelming and ambiguous.

This project is meant to exist outside of an art context, and engage ‘the real’ — [to] exist in people’s daily lives.

The Amateur Human project is funded by a Creative Capital grant.

Karolina Sobecka’s artist website is

Top image: courtesy of the Amateur Human (website)

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Michael Ricciardi

Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles as well as essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, Arthur Shapiro, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website ( He is also the author of the (Kindle) ebook: Artful Survival ~ Creative Options for Chaotic Times

Michael Ricciardi has 9 posts and counting. See all posts by Michael Ricciardi