The first of a network of data-collecting sensors that could one day blanket Chicago are now live.
The city installed two nodes containing computers and sensors including low-resolution cameras as well as air quality sensors last week. They went up on traffic light poles at Damen and Archer avenues in the McKinley Park neighborhood on the Southwest Side and Damen and Cermak Road in the Heart of Chicago on the Lower West Side. The installation marks the launch of the Array of Things project, which was conceived in 2012 and originally slated to start in mid-2014.
The project is a collaboration between the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. AT&T is the internet provider for the project, which is backed by a $3.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Charlie Catlett, director of the Urban Center and Computation and Data at the University of Chicago and Argonne and a leader of the project, said about 10 sensors per week will go up after Labor Day. By the end of the year, he expects 60 to 80 nodes to be up and running around the city. By the end of 2018, the project aims to install 500 across Chicago.
“It’s been a couple of years of research and development and testing at various scales, so it felt good to see a couple of them go up in the streets,” Catlett said.
Data from the nodes will not be publicly available until around the middle of October, when the project plans to release the data for free in a usable fashion on the city of Chicago’s Data Portal and the Plenar.io portal, which Catlett said is more suited to researchers than the general public. He said the portals are not ready yet because they were a lower priority than construction and installation of the nodes.
Also still to come is the software that will analyze images to count pedestrians and vehicles, Catlett said. He said the team will have to capture images at different times of day and in different weather conditions to ensure the software works correctly. To do so, images will be transferred to a secure server at the University of Chicago.
Later, the images will be analyzed by in-node computers then destroyed, after a period of time ranging up to tens of minutes, once the data is extracted from them, he said.
Catlett and other proponents of the Array of Things say the big data it collects will help the city run smarter by tracking traffic patterns, detecting flooding and analyzing air quality in certain neighborhoods, among other things. He said the team is partnering with similar groups in other cities, starting with Seattle in partnership with the city and the University of Washington.
They’ll also partner with groups in Chattanooga, Tenn., and two cities in the United Kingdom: Bristol and Newcastle. Catlett said those partnerships are likely to start in early 2017.