Wrigley Field serves as classroom for Lane Tech students

Lane Tech College Prep High School students, in collaboration with the University of Chicago, will be installing sensor boxes at Wrigley Field to measure sound levels, customer satisfaction and air quality, among other things. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

When Cubs fans leave Wrigley Field starting Tuesday night, they may encounter a simple console with two circular buttons: one a red, angry face, the other a green, smiley face. The sensor will have a question attached asking fans about their experience at the ballpark and whether they would recommend a Wrigley visit to their family and friends.

But it won’t be Cubs executives on the other end monitoring the responses. Rather, each push of a button will be recorded and registered on the computers of Lane Tech High School students.


2018 NCWIT National AiC Educator Award Winner Jeff Solin

NCWIT Aspirations in Computing is pleased to announce that Lane Tech High School Computing Instructor Jeff Solin has been named the recipient of the 2018 NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) National Educator Award!

This year’s recipient, Jeff Solin, left a career in the tech industry 17 years ago on what he describes as “a quest to help change Computer Science education.” After several years at Chicago’s Northside College Prep, Jeff joined the faculty at Lane Tech to help develop that school’s computer science department. Since he began teaching at Lane Tech, the department has grown from a single computer science teacher serving a student body of 4,400 to a robust staff of 10 full time teachers of different genders and backgrounds who offer a total of 12 different computing classes.

Podcast: Smart Sensors Capture Pulse of Chicago

Imagine a health monitor for the city, but instead of measuring heart rate or daily steps, this device measures everything from air quality to vehicle traffic.

The idea may sound like science fiction, but it’s becoming a reality for cities like Chicago through the Array of Things project, a collaborative effort between scientists, universities, local government and community members to collect real-time data on the city.

The project, based out of Argonne National Laboratory, is led by Charlie Catlett, director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data at UChicago and Argonne. Catlett is aiming to install 500 sensor nodes around Chicago and eventually setup a network around the world “to improve living and working in the city.”

Sensing the City - With the Array of Things program, environmental inequity meets urban technology

These little plastic nodes are packed with sensors and backed by millions in federal funding. Eventually, the microwave-sized devices will make their way out to lampposts in Chicago or Detroit or Denver or beyond to quietly measure the world around them. They’ll look for traffic patterns, and they’ll measure sound. They’ll count particles in the air and note the amount of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and other pollutants present. They’ll measure vibration, magnetic fields, and light. And if all goes according to plan, they’ll send this information back to a database where scientists, city officials, hacktivists, and residents will be able to access and analyze the streams of hyperlocal data.

This is the vision of the Array of Things (AoT), a joint initiative between Argonne, a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory operated by a subsidiary of the University of Chicago, the University of Chicago, the City of Chicago, and various technology firms. The project expects to start publishing data from its preliminary nodes to the city’s open-data portal earlier this year, at which point they hope to have a hundred of them up around the city quietly quantifying the traffic, noise, and emissions that make city living unpleasant at least, and environmentally unjust at worst.

A Guide to Chicago's Array of Things Initiative

If you’re a frequent reader of all things civic tech, then you may have already come across the Array of Things (AoT).  Launched in 2016, the project, which consists of a network of sensor boxes mounted on light posts, has now begun collecting a host of real-time data on Chicago’s environmental surroundings and urban activity.   After installing a small number of sensors downtown and elsewhere in 2016, Chicago is now adding additional sensors across the city and the city’s data portal currently lists locations for all of AoT’s active and yet-to-be installed sensors.  Next year, data collected from AoT will be accessible online, providing valuable information for researchers, urban planners, and the general public. 

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Public Opinion Often Sets Privacy Standards for Smart City Tech

ATLANTA — As cities have begun to collect and release unprecedented amounts of data, questions about citizen privacy have become increasingly relevant. Local governments, for their part, often lack specific privacy policies and rely on checks such as community outcry, industry best practices and guidance from law professors to dictate the limits of their work. This was an overarching topic at many panels during the recent MetroLab Annual Summit.

Perception is also important, as Chicago and its collaborators learned upon launching the Array of Things project, an influential smart cities initiative made up of thousands of nodes. Array of Things, which is in the process of being spread to other cities, was born of a collaboration between the city and researchers at the University of Chicago, like Charlie Catlett, the director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data. 

Catlett said that when they were first setting up the nodes that collect data for the Array of Things project, the community was skeptical of any government effort to collect info, so technologists had to learn to become very deliberate when they explained what they were doing and why.

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How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

Speaking at SC17 in Denver this week, a panel of smart city practitioners shared the strategies, techniques and technologies they use to understand their cities better and to improve the lives of their residents. With data coming in from all over the urban landscape and worked over by machine learning algorithms, Debra Lam, managing director for smart cities & inclusive innovation at Georgia Tech who works on strategies for Atlanta and the surrounding area, said “we’ve embedded research and development into city operations, we’ve formed a match making exercise between the needs of the city coupled with the most advanced research techniques.”

Panel moderator Charlie Cattlett, director, urban center for computation & data Argonne National Laboratory who works on smart city strategies for Chicago, said that the scale of data involved in complex, long-term modeling will require nothing less than the most powerful supercomputers, including the next generation of exascale systems under development within the Department of Energy. The vision for exascale, he said, is to build “a framework for different computation models to be coupled together in multiple scales to look at long-range forecasting for cities.”

Citizen devices tracking Chicago's pollution hot spots

Researchers at the Urban Center for Computation and Data, an initiative by the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, have developed equipment that is being posted on light poles around the city to provide granular details about air quality, traffic, sound volume and temperature.

After working out glitches with the electronics and redesigning protective enclosures for the devices, dubbed the Array of Things, the scientists are planning to have 500 monitors up and running by the end of next year.

Charlie Catlett, a data scientist who directs the project, said the goal is to provide researchers and the public with new kinds of data that can be used to improve quality of life. The latest version of the monitors is designed to make it easier to add new technology as the field improves and expands.

10 cities living in the future

Chicago is ahead of the curve in its effort to use sensors to track traffic conditions. Chicago's Array of Things project posts sensors above many of the city's intersections to track air quality and traffic conditions on a block-by-block level.

The project is an early example of how cities will leverage data to better serve citizens.