Chicago’s innovative new streetlights will monitor the city’s every move

As one of America’s largest cities, Chicago has a unique personality wholly original to itself. To help achieve a better understanding of the Windy City’s character and temperament, Charlie Catlett — the Director of Urban Center for Computation and Data at Argonne National Laboratory — decided “why not outfit the city with an abundance of sensors to track its every move?”

By taking advantage of the city’s impending investment in new streetlights this past year, Catlett’s innovative vision recently came to life this week as Chicago began installing the revolutionary sensors. Dubbed the Array of Things, Catlett’s initiative should provide an unprecedented snapshot of Chicago.

Once up and running, the Array of Things hopes to offer community groups, Chicago’s local government, as well as a variety of entrepreneurs, access to the amassed data. The hope is that ongoing collaboration will allow those involved to help improve every aspect of Chicago as a whole. By soaking up climate information pertaining to fluctuating temperature, barometric pressure, carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels, as well light, the Array of Things figures to have priceless data at its fingertips.

ChicagoSensor1
Urban Center for Computation and Data
Urban Center for Computation and Data

“I thought, what a tremendous opportunity that would be for the science community to better understand things like climate and air quality,” Catlett told Fast Co. Design.

After learning the city of Chicago was in the preliminary stages of replacing its aging streetlights, Catlett immediately saw an opportunity to make a difference. After tasking students at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory for input on the kind of data to collect, he then turned to the Art Institute of Chicago to crowdsource the best possible design for the sensors. Once this was done, the National Science Foundation chipped into the fun by agreeing to fund part of the development and manufacturing of the sensors (called nodes).

With funding secured, the next task at hand was to begin designing the sensors in earnest. Aside from wanting to create something which avoided looking like a Skynet device, the designers also needed to build a tool that could withstand Chicago’s schizophrenic annual weather. Be it long bouts of frigidly icy weather or the (literal) dog days of Chicago’s humid summer, the sensors needed to be resilient; period. Furthermore, they needed to be pleasant to the eye.

“We don’t want something that’s ominous and military looking, nor do we want something that’s hidden,” Catlett said. “We want something that’s attractive looking, and where you look at it and say, I’m not sure if that’s a weather station or a piece of art.”

ChicagoSensor4
Urban Center for Computation and Data
Urban Center for Computation and Data

The Array of Things’ final design — a small box outfit with an “Array of Things” logo surrounded by a blue finish — seems to capture everything Catlett and those involved were searching for. Installation of the device simply requires attaching it to a traffic light or telephone pole while its beehive-looking sensor attachment hangs slightly away from the pole. However innovative the program is, the Array of Things has been met with a bit of controversy — specifically with its privacy policy.

Considering the rig is designed to measure traffic and pedestrian levels by way of cameras, people have expressed a dissatisfaction with their every move being captured on film or photo. Though the privacy policy states that images will only be used for a short time to be analyzed, the algorithms powering the device have been shown to keep some photographic data for later access.

While this is a function of the initiative, it’s been one largest parts of the Array of Things receiving criticism. The City of Chicago’s Chief Information Officer, Brenna Berman, feels the program has the ability to do much more good than bad and that it will be critical in making informed policy decisions.

ChicagoSensor3
Urban Center for Computation and Data
Urban Center for Computation and Data

“This takes being a data-driven government one step further,” says Berman. “It gives us more data to better inform the policy, to drive better and more efficient services through that data. I go from having 30,000 city employees using data to drive better city government to having 3 million partners dedicated to making Chicago a better place to live.”

With the initiative in its infancy, it remains to be seen just how effective the monitoring system figures to be. As of now, 42 sensors are being installed around Chicago with the team hoping to expand that number to between 60 and 80 before winter officially hits.

Smart Home

The Apple HomePod gets a whole lot cheaper today at Target

Apple's HomePod hasn't been the most popular smart speaker on the market but for users who are all in on Apple's heavily policed ecosystem of devices, this smart speaker is on serious sale at Target this week.
Mobile

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Mobile

The Galaxy S10 may be announced before MWC, sell for up to $1,750

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.
Computing

Here’s how to install Windows on a Chromebook

If you want to push the functionality of your new Chromebook to another level, and Linux isn't really your deal, you can try installing Windows on a Chromebook. Here's how to do so, just in case you're looking to nab some Windows-only…
Deals

Save money and control your home’s temperature with these smart thermostat deals

With the winter season in full blast, there's no better time to save money with a smart home thermostat. We found the best deals available on smart home thermostats. Control your home's heating via smartphone or voice assistants.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Smart Home

Dear Instant Pot Smart: I love you. Thank you for changing my life

After taking the Instant Pot Smart WiFi Programmable Pressure Cooker for a spin, one long-time product reviewer finds much to love about the device she long coveted, despite that it’s not really that smart.
Smart Home

Uber Eats is testing a system for cheaper meal delivery

You know how Uber Pool offers cheaper trips if riders share a car? Well, Uber Eats is currently testing the same idea for meal delivery, and it could mean cheaper orders for customers.
Deals

Brew, drip, or press a fresh cup of joe with today’s best deals on coffee makers

To kick off the day with a fresh cup or upgrade your home coffee machine to accommodate the preferences of dinner guests, check these hot deals for drip coffee makers, espresso machines, and single-serving devices on Walmart and Amazon.
Smart Home

People are stealing Ring doorbells (and it’s no knock-knock joke)

Ring Video Doorbell thefts in a Denver neighborhood raise questions about how much security the smart home devices actually provide. One homeowner and the police have a video of the theft. Here's what to do if your Ring device is stolen.
Smart Home

Alexa’s latest skill helps patients manage high blood pressure

People who need some help managing their high blood pressure are getting some help via a new Alexa skill developed in partnership with Omron Healthcare that will work directly with the manufacturer's monitors.
Smart Home

Need a hot cup of coffee right now? These are the best Keurig machines

Keurig machines simplify the process of making that important morning cup of coffee, but picking the right model for you can be difficult. Here's a detailed breakdown of the best machines in Keurig's current lineup.
Smart Home

These accessories take your already awesome Instant Pot to a whole new level

If you're familiar with the Instant Pot, you know that this bad boy acts as a pressure cooker, rice cooker, cake maker, egg boiler, and a lot more. Here are some must-have accessories to make Instant Pot cooking even better.
Smart Home

Amazon shows off compact cashier-free store that could show up at airports

Amazon is testing its smallest Amazon Go store to date as it considers taking the grab-and-go technology to new venues such as airports and train stations. The compact store is a quarter the size of its current locations.