By Liz Stinson

There you are, standing on a street corner surrounded by a mob of people waiting for the walk signal. In front of you, a single car gets the green light. Again. For all the talk of smart cities, they can be infuriatingly dumb at times. But imagine if your city could monitor the flow of pedestrians and optimize its traffic signals for walkers, not drivers? That’s exactly what Chicago is looking to do.

Later this fall, the Windy City will install a network of 40 sensor nodes on light poles at the University of Chicago, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. The goal is to eventually expand the system to 1,000 sensors (enough to cover the Chicago Loop) over the next few years. Spearheaded by the University of Chicago’s Urban Center for Computational Data, it’s called the Array of Things initiative, and the goal is to gather an unprecedented set of ambient data to help government officials and residents understand how their city ticks so they can make it a happier, healthier, and smarter place to live…

Every 15 seconds these sensors will gather information like temperature, humidity, carbon monoxide, vibrations, light, and sound—pretty standard stuff. But Charlie Catlett, director of the Urban CCD, says gathering even basic data can help us to evaluate some of our cities’ most unquantifiable features like hyper-local air quality, pedestrian traffic, emergency route efficiency, and resource allocation like salt for icy roads. “Right now, we don’t have any scientific data that proves if you do X, Y, or Z, it will improve walkability,” he says. “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.”

Catlett imagines that some day people will be walking down the street and their phones will automatically pull in the data that the sensors have gathered over bluetooth. This could be used to alert you to the most well-lit path during a late-night walk home. Or it could eventually be used to track air particulate, which could shed light onto why allergies or asthma is more common in certain areas of the city and help inform health policy. Another useful application is adding context to the data your fitness applications gather. “Now at the end of the week you can look at the number of steps you took but you can also look at: What was my exposure through the week to carbon monoxide or excessive noise?” says Catlett…

Continue reading at Wired…

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Areas of Focus: Environment
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