By Elizabeth Dwoskin
Four percent of Manhattanites go to bed before 7:30 p.m. on weeknights. Only 6% turn off the lights after midnight.
For more fine-grained data on what makes New York City tick, ask researcher Steven Koonin. Hidden on a Brooklyn rooftop, his wide-angle infrared camera peers at windows of thousands of buildings across the East River. The camera detects 800 gradations of light, a sensitivity that lets his software determine what time households turn in, what kind of light bulbs they use, and even what pollutants their buildings emit.
He has also mounted sound sensors in Brooklyn on streetlight poles and building facades to gauge the volume of house parties and car horns.
Mr. Koonin, a former undersecretary of science in the Obama administration who directs New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, is at the forefront of an academic movement to quantify urban life…
In the coming weeks, the University of Chicago will install dozens of sensor packs on street lamps in the city’s central business district and elsewhere. Each pack, roughly the size of a thick laptop, contains 65 sensors intended to capture data on environmental conditions including sound volume, wind and carbon-dioxide levels, as well as behavioral data such as pedestrian traffic flow as revealed by Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones.
The Chicago installation is funded by a $200,000 federal grant plus donations from Qualcomm Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and other companies.
“It’s like a Fitbit for the city,” said Charlie Catlett, director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Center for Computation and Data, the institute leading the city’s “Array of Things” project.
These projects build on recent government efforts to use data to make cities more efficient. In Houston, for example, officials track smartphones to understand road congestion and synchronize traffic lights. Sensors in Barcelona trash cans help sanitation workers optimize their collection routes…
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