Environmental Bike (2020)

The Environmental Bike live sonifying air pollution through central Lisbon, Lisboa Soa 2020.  A moment

The Environnmental Bike is a sonic bike that makes sound and music through live sonification of air pollution as you cycle. Instigated by Matthews after her work with FoAM-Kernow on the Sonic Kayak during 2016-19, we made this first prototype in Berlin during COVID lockdown summer 2020, and launched it at Lisboa Soa sound art festival September 2020.

This situation provided an ideal opportunity to run an interactive and Open Research Lab with the public to test the bike and develop the system. Presenting out of the Campo Mártires da Pátria park up on a hill in downtown central Lisbon, the Lab was run daily by bicrophonic artists Lisa Hall, Kaffe Matthews and Federico Visi with the hardware built by Sukandar Kartadinata, Berlin and ongoing consultation with FoAM-Kernow,  from 22 – 27.09.20.


Based in this glass hub in the park with four EnviroBikes ready to go, passers by were invited to go ride one locally, then bring it back to us to download and visualise the air particulate data the system gathered,  including their journey’s GPS trace. Over the week this meant that, with the riders input, we could gradually accumulate all the rides data, so beginning to move towards a new understanding of the spread and variety of air quality in central Lisbon.   This video shows a couple of riders assessing with us what happened on their ride.


EnviroBike is simply a sonic bike that carries an air pollution sensor on its handlebars within a small box with nostrils that enables its fan to ‘breathe’ the passing air in and out.  Using a laser the sensor can then measure the amount and size of particulate matter (PM) found in the air, including the ‘dangerous’ PM2.5 and below in nine different data streams.


This data is also fed into Pure Data modules housed in the Raspberry Pi in the sonic bike box on the back of the bike which trigger or process stored sounds depending on data levels received and how the PD patch is designed. The fundamental PD system used is MoSoLab built by Federico Visi for the sonification project with sonic kayaks June 2020, and then developed with the making of the prototype EnviroBike in Berlin.


The sonic bike box also has a gas sensor connected, each bike measuring a different gas ; either the amount of carbon monoxide or methane or hydrogen or alcohol present.  A bulk of the Lab’s work then was to develop the response of these sound processing patches, ie. the live sonification system of PM levels and gas,  to give not only a rewarding audio experience to the rider but some understanding of the air quality as they rode. With four EnviroBikes in the Lab, different sonic characters were gradually built onto each one, terrifying or relaxing or thrilling riders with the thunderous rackets of parping fog horns or panting gasping bike or cyber woman calmly presenting the effects of invisible molecules on the human animal or dying granulated organ in dense traffic and oft outside that particular hotel (?) half way up the Avenue Almirante Reis, inbeteen the many calm moments of clean fresh air of course.


Overall, EnviroBike riding is a more interactive and investigatory experience for the rider now cycling through a city, able to hear as well as be inspired to think about the air space they were riding through. No longer required to follow a certain path as with the regular sonic bike, riders also wanted to explore their local neighbourhood and discover how polluted or not their local streets were, and where and when do the peaks arise.

Often outcomes were of surprise as the air was not necessarily polluted behind a car, but maybe more past a small restaurant cooking in the evening, or on the corner of a park where there were many pollinating trees and buses. Temperature, humidity, time of day, height above sea level, wind and the movement of air as well as architectural space, traffic type and density all fed into these results, inspiring much discussion into what are our local airspaces made of.

EnviroBike was launched  at the Goethe-Institute, opening Lisboa Soa 2020 21.09.20  in Lisbon, Green Capital for Europe 2020. It was generously received by audience and environmental scientists alike. It has a future. We will let you know.


Many thanks to all at Lisboa Soa, the Göethe Institute , the riders, the volunteers and the environmental scientists who came and encouraged us. Also to Vera Marmelo for these wonderful images.



Lots of brilliant features on TV and radio to share!

TV: SIC Edição de Manha SIC Noticias and “Primeiro Jornal” (PT)  /  Time Out’s feature on Lisboa Soa (PT)  /  Radio: Antena1, National Broadcast radio station (PT )  /  Radio: TSF Bikes (PT)  /  Radio: Antena 3, no Dominio Publico  /  Podcast: Biculture (EN)

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