Chicago installs fitness trackers for city

“What if a light pole told you to watch out for an icy patch of sidewalk ahead? What if an app told you the most populated route for a late-night walk to the El station by yourself? What if you could get weather and air quality information block-by-block, instead of city-by-city?” As the official website of the Array of Things Project describes, this is some of the benefits that citizens of Chicago from the installation of Fitbit like trackers across the city.

Array of Things is revolutionizing urban data collection in Chicago by installing sensors on traffic light posts. The first 2 sensors of the planned 500 nodes for Chicago has already been rolled out. This is a result of an innovative partnership between the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, and the City of Chicago to better understand, serve, and improve cities. Array of Things is funded by a $3.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, with additional investments from Argonne and the Chicago Innovation Exchange.

The 10 pound sensors costing now between $1,200 to $1,600 and resembling fitness trackers will be providing data on air quality, climate, traffic and other urban features. 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. The data which will be open and free for all will help researchers, city officials, policymakers, and solution providers study and address critical city challenges, improve traffic safety and monitor climatic change ultimately making city life better.

Array of Things 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.

All hardware, software and data being collected will be regularly reviewed by a Technical Security and Privacy Group chaired by Von Welch, director of Indiana University’s Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research. Operating as an external, independent review team, the committee will also be consulted whenever there is a request for a new kind of data to be collected.

Privacy of data is being taken extremely seriously by the Project Team with a dedicated council of members from academia, industry, non-profits, and the community which has to approve any data that will be collected by the sensors. The technology and policy have been designed to specifically avoid any potential collection of data about individuals, so privacy protection is built into the design of the sensors and into the operating policies. So, any video recorded by the camera is supposed to be stored only for few minutes for analytical purpose. The operation of the Array of Things will be governed by privacy policies that will be published prior to installation of nodes. As cities gets smarter, more and more data will be collected and it will be interesting to watch how technology does not trample on the privacy of citizens.

The underlying software and hardware uses the Waggle sensor platform, designed by Pete Beckman, Rajesh Sankaran, and Catlett at Argonne. The node enclosures were designed and manufactured by Product Development Technologies in Lake Zurich, IL, from original designs by Douglas Pancoast and Satya Mark Basu of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. AT&T is the project’s communications partner, providing all AoT connectivity for Chicago. Array of Things technology was developed with help from industry partners who provided in-kind engineering expertise, including Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola Solutions, Schneider Electric, and Zebra Technologies.

AoT is currently partnering with universities in 9 North American and global cities to collect data, including New York City, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, Mexico City, Newcastle (UK), Glasgow (UK), Bristol (UK), and Amsterdam. Later this year, each of those cities will receive five to ten nodes for use in monitoring local environmental, infrastructure and activity data. Additional U.S. and international cities have expressed interest in partnering with AoT in 2016.

A similar initiative is also happening at London where sensors for measuring a range of physical parameters, including air quality and human activity have been installed at different sites across the city like Hyde Park, Brixton, Enfield, Elephant and Castle and Tower Bridge. The project title Sensing London  has a team of expert data scientists to analyse the information and assess the impact that cities themselves have on human health and understand how people use infrastructures.

Reference Links:

1) – Official Website Array of Things




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