Chicago is getting an upgrade. The University of Chicago’s Urban Center for Computational Data recently announced it intention to outfit the third most populous city in the U.S. with an array of 40 sensor-containing units that will begin its transformation from the Windy City into a breezy connected city.
According to a report at Wired, the Urban CCD will soon install smart sensors on University of Chicago, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Argonne National Laboratory campuses. Part of the Array of Things initiative, Urban CCD officials will reportedly use the sensors to collect data about how the city functions in order to make it a better place to live. The sensors are geared to measure basic atmospheric conditions including temperature, humidity, carbon monoxide, light, and sound. That may sound like nothing special; indeed the data is arguably elementary. However, Charlie Catlett, director of Urban CCD, says even basic data such as that can lead to improvements in city life.
“Right now, we don’t have any scientific data that proves if you do X, Y, or Z, it will improve walkability,” Catless said. “I’m interested in collaborating with architects and designers to see if we can put some data behind the rules of thumb in urban design.”
The Array of Things website says the prototype units may also include sensors for volatile organic compounds, ozone, carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter with a possible future that contains sensors for precipitation and wind. It also hints the the original 40 (to scale to more than 1,000 in the coming years) will be able to measure the number of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi-enabled devices within a certain radius. That amounts to three total sensors which can measure human activity: ambient volume, temperatures sensors that measure roads and sidewalks, and Bluetooth/Wi-Fi.
Urban CCD also mentions that these sensors will not collect personally-identifying information about anyone who is nearby. The sensors will all collect data that remains anonymous and is there for use by the public. The sensors will report data back to an open source database that updates its information, in accordance with sensor readings, multiple times each minute. The hardware enclosed in the devices will also be open source and open for oversight and development by the public.
The entire initiative is part of the growing Internet of Things. According to a Goldman Sachs report featured at Quartz, the Internet of Things includes connected devices in the home, business, and public spaces that connect to the global network that is the Internet. Data from these devices in not necessarily open to everyone — as such is the case with the Array of Things — but may include data from cities such as smart traffic lights or from personal wearables such as smart glasses like Google Glass. Over the past 10 years, Goldman Sachs reports, the cost of Internet bandwidth has decreased 40x and and processing costs have decreased 60x. Such decreases have paved the way for connected devices to make use of smaller and smaller units that are able to readily connect to networks at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, the number of IP addresses available through IPv6 — 3.4×10^38 — allows for a seemingly limitless number of devices to connect to the Internet at once. That will be essential to supporting the predicted number of connected devices by the year 2020: 28 billion.
Catlett said he imagines a future where the Chicago-based sensors will allow smartphones to alert people to the most well-lit walking paths through the city or to alert people with allergies about the most particulate-filled sections of Chicago. This may become more of a reality once Urban CCD works out any bugs in its system and independent developers begin making use of the publicly-available data. An increased number of units will also aid success. And if the model takes off, any number of cities may want to follow Chicago’s lead and build their own connected cities.
Image courtesy of Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Commons