Array of IoT Devices to Assess the Health and Wellness of Chicago
Michael Alba posted on December 08, 2016 |
By the end of 2018, 500 Array of Things nodes will be installed around the city of Chicago. (Image courtesy of Array of Things).

By the end of 2018, 500 Array of Things nodes will be installed around the city of Chicago. (Image courtesy of Array of Things).

Cities are complex creatures. And cities like Chicago – with 2.7 million people packed into 600 square kilometers – are especially convoluted. How do you begin to understand the dynamics at play? Well, to understand anything, you first need to collect some data. This sounds like a job for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The city of Chicago will serve as a test bed for an urban sensing project called the Array of Things (AoT), a network of 500 sensor nodes to be placed around the city. The nodes will feature a variety of sensors to measure city data, from climate and air quality to noise and traffic patterns. The data will be openly available, and may ultimately help us understand complex city dynamics.

The Array of Things

The nodes will be installed on traffic poles and buildings in strategic locations around Chicago, essentially collecting block-by-block data about the city. The project, which is already underway, will see 500 nodes installed by the end of 2018.

Each node will be equipped with around a dozen sensors, measuring temperature, pressure, carbon monoxide levels, ambient noise, pedestrian and vehicle traffic, light, vibration, wind, pollutants, precipitation, magnetic field and more. Each node also features a camera for the temporary recording of images.

An overview of the architecture of a node in the Array of Things. (Image courtesy of Array of Things).
An overview of the architecture of a node in the Array of Things. (Image courtesy of Array of Things).
Once the data is collected, it’s sent to a central server and then purged from the node. All the data from the nodes will be made freely available to anyone interested in making use of it, such as researchers and app developers, through an online data portal.

Fitness Tracking for Cities

So what can be done with all this data? For one, the AoT project foresees many applications in city planning: traffic coordination, air quality warnings and flood detection could all improve with the increase in data. The project also aims to answer hard multidisciplinary questions, such as determining the correlations between weather, noise, pollution, traffic and social trends.

But IoT engineers will recognize that an influx in data comes with a price: the so-called Big Data problem. Sometimes, insights can simply be lost in a sea of information. It’s easy to see how the AoT data could be used to, say, create a detailed temperature map of the city or help pedestrians choose the best route to avoid air pollution. But what lessons might we be missing amidst the data clutter?

There’s no doubt: the more data, the better. But the matter of organizing this data to make the most out of it is a problem for all IoT designers. The AoT project’s answer to this problem is to open their data; the more people sifting through a haystack, the greater the odds of finding a needle. And while this isn’t an option for every IoT application, it certainly seems prudent for the variety of smart city projects cropping up globally.

The Array of Things is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and is a collaboration between engineers at the University of Chicago and the Argonne National Laboratory. More information about the project can be found on the AoT website.

 To learn more about the future of smart cities, check out Hybrid Solar-Wind Energy Generator May Power Smart Cities.

Recommended For You