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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. 

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.

The Quantified City: A Closer Look at Chicago's Array of Things

Source: Brittnay Micek, Carto

Chicago, is the latest city to crack the syntax of smart cities and hack the Internet of Things. Instead of focusing on data to quantify individual productivity and activity, the city has partnered with researchers to analyze sensor-collected data to measure the City by the Lake’s “fitness.”

Dubbed the Array of Things (AoT), a network of interactive, modular sensors, is collecting new streams of data on 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 flood prevention, traffic safety, air quality, and availability to civic services.

Chicago begins building 'fitness tracker' to check its vitals

SOURCE: Aadmer Mahani, USA Today

CHICAGO — The Windy City has begun installing what sounds and looks a whole lot like a Fitbit that can measure the vitals of a bustling metropolis.

Chicago, which partnered on the project with researchers at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory and several corporations, last week installed the first two of 500 modular sensor boxes. The devices will eventually allow the city and public to instantly get block-by-block data on air quality, noise levels, as well as vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

The project — dubbed the Array of Things and described by Chicago officials as a "fitness tracker for the city" — is a first-of-its-kind effort in the nation. Plans are in the works to replicate the project in the coming years in more than a dozen other cities, including Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Seattle. The Chicago project was funded with the help of a $3.1 million National Science Foundation grant.


'Array of Things' Expands to Cities with Research Partnerships

Seattle will likely be the first city in the U.S. outside of Chicago to participate in the project, which involves deploying a network of sensors around urban environments.

The Array of Things is expanding outside Chicago. But only to cities that have partnerships with a local university or research institution.

The project, which aims to deploy a fleet of multi-function sensors around the Windy City beginning this year, is also working with city and academic partners to expand to Seattle, as well as Bristol and Newcastle in the United Kingdom. And those are just the beginning — Charlie Catlett, director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data and a driving force behind the project, said he’s working with a total of 18 locations around the world. He’s even partnering with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which wants to test out the sensors’ ability to deliver air quality data as a possible means of improving existing sensors.


Do Universities, Research Institutions Hold the Key to Open Data’s Next Chapter?

Source: Ben Miller, Government Technology

Where government has raw data, professors and researchers have expertise and analytics programs.

The amount of data available to government and the computing public promises to continue to multiply — the growing smart cities trend, for example, installs networks of sensors on everything from utility poles to garbage bins.

As all this happens, a movement — a new spin on an old concept — has begun to take root: partnerships between government and research institutes. Usually housed within universities and laboratories, these partnerships aim to match strength with strength. Where government has raw data, professors and researchers have expertise and analytics programs.

“Array” of Possibilities: Chicago’s New Wireless Sensor Networks to Create an Urban Internet of Things


IoT won’t just make your life easier; when it’s embedded in cities the same way it’s embedded in homes, cars, and offices, it also has the potential to make your life better.

That’s the hypothesis in Chicago, where a project is underway to establish wireless sensor networks capable of measuring a city’s vitals in the same way a fitness tracker measures an athlete’s.

New sensor array changes the data collection game

Source: Justin H.S. Breaux, Argonne National Laboratory

As urban populations increase, so too does the complexity involved in maintaining basic services like clean water and emergency services.  But one of the biggest barriers to making cities “smarter”—for example, comprehensively monitoring sources of waterway pollutants in real time—is quick and easy access to data.

Future scenarios like these depend on technology not yet widely available.  Future “smart” cities would have to feature hundreds, maybe thousands, of strategically placed sensors. These devices would record everything from air pressure and temperature to microbial content, and the data would be relayed instantly to the laptops of people who can make decisions based on what they are seeing.


SAIC artists and designers are forging community technology with the Array of Things project

Source: Jessica Barrett Sattell, HIghlights-SAIC

Three transparent boxes holding electronic sensors to read temperature, humidity, and air quality each spent a week in the urban research field of the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago's South Side—one buried in a garden, another carried on walks around city streets, and the last situated within a local house. Built and monitored under the careful watch of seven Chicago public high school students who call the area home, the devices pulled environmental data as raw material to intimately examine the unseen elements of how cities grow and change.

Returning to their classroom laboratory at the University of Chicago, the group, apprehensive and excited, waited to see if their assigned devices had collected successfully. Douglas Pancoast, Director of SAIC's Earl and Brenda Shapiro Center for Research and Collaboration and Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects, popped out each box's SD card and projected files containing lines upon lines of text on a large monitor.