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A Guide to Chicago's Array of Things Initiative

SOURCE: SEAN THORNTON, DATA-SMART CITY SOLUTIONS

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. 

AoT’s public engagement campaign has been picking up steam as well, with a recent community event held this fall. As a non-proprietary project, AoT is being implemented as a tool to improve not just urban planning and sustainability efforts, but quality of life for residents and communities. To engage with the public, project leaders have hold meetings and workshops to build relationships with residents and identify community priorities. Those priorities, which vary from community to community, could range from monitoring traffic congestion around specific intersections to addressing air quality concerns at local parks and schoolyards.

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Motorola Grant Expands Array of Things Educational Mission

Motorola Grant Expands Array of Things Educational Mission

A new Innovation Generation grant from the Motorola Solutions Foundation will help Array of Things expand its educational curriculum to additional Chicago Public Schools classrooms in 2018. Building upon two successful years of workshops with over 300 students at Lane Tech High School, the program will train teachers and package materials for a hands-on experience with the Internet of Things, coding, data science, and other key computer science and technology concepts.

A Return Trip to the Lane of Things

A Return Trip to the Lane of Things

For the second year running, Array of Things worked with Chicago’s Lane Tech High School on a workshop curriculum called “Lane of Things.” Over eight weeks, students in Lane Tech’s Innovation and Creation Lab and Physical Computing Lab worked with scientists and designers from the Array of Things project on designing and building their own sensor boxes. Teams then deployed those boxes around the school, collecting data on foot traffic, air quality, noise, student behavior, and more.

Chicago Becomes First City to Launch Array of Things

Chicago Becomes First City to Launch Array of Things

This week in Chicago, the Array of Things team begins 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.

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.

Two Corporate Partnerships Advance Array of Things Mission

Two Corporate Partnerships Advance Array of Things Mission

As the Array of Things takes its final steps toward its public launch later this summer, it has locked in two new relationships that will support its research and education goals. Through an Innovation Generation grant from Motorola Solutions, the Array of Things (AoT) team will expand the high school curriculum built around the urban sensing project last year at Lane Tech High School, enabling more students to learn about technology, programming, and other important skills through the platform. Meanwhile, a new agreement with AT&T establishes the company as the wireless provider for the AoT nodes, transmitting terabytes of data to storage.

Convening the Next Phase of Urban Data Science

Convening the Next Phase of Urban Data Science

The first University of Chicago Convening on Urban Data Science, organized by the CI’s Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD) and the UChicago Urban and sponsored by the Harris School for Public Policy, reflected this early stage of growth. There was ample enthusiasm about early projects using analytics, sensing, mapping, and both public and private data sources. There was excitement about the future and new collaborations formed across countries, disciplines, and public/private/academic spheres. But there were also passionate discussions about the ethical and moral implications of urban data science, an important reflection for a fast-growing field with the goal of improving policy and people’s lives.

“Lane of Things” Brings Sensor Science to Schools

“Lane of Things” Brings Sensor Science to Schools

Inside the small wooden box are several tiny sensors, a cellular modem, a battery, and a micro-processor running custom programming code. But the key innovation for Erica Pereira’s “Lane of Things” device might be the laser-printed cut-out design of the outer enclosure: two circles and a square forming a friendly emoji-like face.

Their box was just one of over forty sensor nodes built by Lane Tech students as part of the first Lane of Things workshop, funded by Motorola Solutions and organized by the Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) as part of the broader Array of Things (AoT) project. The workshop was the first stage of the AoT’s educational component, using the technology and principles of the urban sensing platform to help students learn about programming, data science, digital fabrication, and additional CS concepts.

Beyond Smart Cities, Spinning A City Web

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Beyond Smart Cities, Spinning A City Web

For several years, “smart cities” has been a popular buzzword for applications of data, computation, and technology in an urban setting. So far, the movement has achieved some early successes, such as open data portals and increasing use of predictive analytics from city governments across the country. But these efforts are just the first small step towards the full potential of new technologies to improve cities and the lives of their residents.

In February, a working group assembled by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released their report on this promising area of research and policy. In it, the assembled academic researchers, city officials, and business professionals highlight the brightest examples of urban technology, and make several recommendations for how the federal government can further nurture its growth. Among the 20 authors of the report was the CI’s own Charlie Catlett, director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD), and UrbanCCD projects appear as model initiatives.

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