clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How the Smart City of Chicago Is Making Itself Even Smarter

Getty Images

A smart city is a good thing. But besides the intelligence of its citizens, what does it mean? It translates to the intelligence of the things that people have built in and for the city itself, so that there's a certain self-reliance that can also support a symbiotic relationship with its residents that use bike paths, outdoor spaces, and LEED buildings.

Engineers at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District have their own ideas to heighten the city's IQ. While 1.2 billion gallons of water wash through Chicago every day at a cost of $50 million per year, they want an energy neutral status by 2023. If they can successfully reduce energy consumed and produce power needed onsite, they'll set the standard as the largest wastewater treatment authority in the nation to self-sufficiency.
And if you ask the City of Chicago what it means, you'll get an answer that centers on an urban sensor network for local neighborhoods. They've partnered with the Array of Things Project, comprised of Charlie Catlett and researchers from the Urban Center for Computation and Data of the Computation Institute, a joint initiative of Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago. All these players are teaming up to make the city educated in a new way. Because to these people, a smart city is a fit city, and they want to monitor its health and actigraphy by putting a Fit Bit of sorts on Chicago.

To create a smart city, one needs once inanimate things to talk to each other that might not have previously been connected. If a light pole could monitor icy sidewalks, and warn you about them, then you've saved yourself a slippery trip. If you app lit the way to the safest, most populous route for a late-night walk to the El alone, then you can walk with reassurance.

These are fairly big goals that need to start somewhere. So this plan begins with nodes that will be mounted on streetlight traffic signals. Fifty nodes will be installed in early 2016 with 200 more by the end of the year, and another 500 by the end of 2017.

What do nodes do? They are intended to collect real-time data on the city's environment, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use. Things like temperature, barometric pressure, light, vibration, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, ambient sound intensity, pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and surface temperature. Later, if all goes well, it could expand to monitor flooding and standing water, precipitation, wind, and pollutants.

All of the data will be published free for public use, so that people of various stripes--researchers, policymakers, developers and residents--can collaborate to make the city healthier, more efficient and more livable. Raw data will also be posted to the City of Chicago's open data network and Plenario, a web-based portal that supports open data search and datasets from around the world. And it's not just the data. The software, hardware, parts, and specifications will also be published as open source to encourage participation from the public.

In case you're wondering, the technology and policy have been designed with privacy protection in mind to avoid collection of personal data. Everything will be regularly reviewed by a privacy and security external oversight committee—chaired by Von Welch, director of Indiana University's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research and Kevin Moran, chief technology officer for the City of Chicago—to ensure privacy and security. Because they're an external, independent review team, they'll be involved whenever there is a request for a new kind of data to be collected. Often times, data and security is presented in a Pandora's box of progress and problems that must be opened in order to move forward. But there's a lot riding on this, because the National Science Foundation awarded $3.1 million to the Array of Things project.

Anyone who wants to get smarter has to make mistakes in order to learn, and an aggregate being, a city, is no different. It will be interesting to see how much we have to learn yet on all fronts of a healthier and safer city. Get ready to learn.

·What Is The Array of Things?
·A Smarter Way to Make Smart Cities [Cities Speak | National League of Cities]
·How Chicago Turns Sewage Into Power [CityLab]
·National Science Foundation Awards $3.1 Million to Chicago's Array of Things Project [Urban Center for Computation and Data]