Chicago launches the ‘Array of Things’ urban sensing project


Chicago has become the first city to launch an ‘Array of Things’, a multi node urban sensing project that will provide open data on a range of environmental factors, including air quality, traffic, and climate.

Chicago’s Array of Things (AoT) team has started the first phase of the groundbreaking urban sensing project, installing the first of an eventual 500 nodes on city streets. By measuring data on air quality, climate, traffic and other urban features, these pilot nodes kick off an innovative partnership between the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, and the city of Chicago, to better understand, serve and improve cities.

AoT is designed as a ‘fitness tracker’ for the city, collecting new streams of data on Chicago’s environment, infrastructure and activity. This hyper-local, open data can help researchers, city officials and software developers study and address critical city challenges, such as preventing urban flooding, improving traffic safety and air quality, and assessing the nature and impact of climate change.

In the first phase of the project, 50 nodes will be installed in August and September on traffic light poles in The Loop, Pilsen, Logan Square and along Lake Michigan. These nodes will contain sensors for measuring air and surface temperature, barometric pressure, light, vibration, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone and ambient sound intensity. Two cameras will collect data on vehicle and foot traffic, standing water, sky color and cloud cover.

A total of 500 nodes will be installed across Chicago by the end of 2018, and additional nodes will be shared with cities across the USA, and in countries such as England, Mexico and Taiwan. Initial node locations and data applications were determined based on interactions with community organizations and research groups.

Partnerships with the Chicago Loop Alliance and Vision Zero motivated studies of pedestrian and vehicle flow and traffic safety in The Loop neighborhood. Scientists at UChicago and Argonne chose locations along the lake and across the middle of Chicago that will allow for optimal measurements of features related to urban weather and climate change. AoT will also support city of Chicago efforts to provide smarter and proactive services using predictive analytics and data-driven policy. For example, by tracking the weather conditions leading up to flooding at intersections, city crews can respond more quickly to floods or make infrastructural changes that prevent standing water from accumulating. City departments could also use data on heavy truck traffic and air quality to make decisions about commercial routing that preserves clean air and safe roads in residential neighborhoods. AT&T is the project’s communications partner, providing all AoT connectivity for the city, with the AoT developed with help from industry partners, including Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola Solutions, Schneider Electric and Zebra Technologies.

University of Chicago president Robert J Zimmer said, “The AoT project is gathering a broad scope of data about the urban environment, in a form that researchers, policymakers and residents can use to develop innovative ways of improving our city and urban areas around the world.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).