Array of Things, the smart city example from Chicago

Published by Telefónica IoT Team Smart Cities

Every step we take towards the creation of a smart city is a step towards a better future, where technology serves our needs. We have been working for years to create a true smart city. Today, Chicago is closer than ever to becoming one thanks to the Array of Things, a network of measurement devices that report on the status of the city in real time.

What is the Array of Things?

The Array of things, or AoT, is an urban detection project that implements a network of interactive and modular sensors around Chicago. These sensors collect information about the environment, infrastructure and activity of the city in real time, as if it were a "large-scale fitness gadget" for the urban landscape.

The project is a joint effort by Chicago’s Institute of Computing, the University of Chicago and the Argonne National Laboratory, among others. Together, these entities collect information and process it to evaluate the status of the city. The status of what, specifically? Of air quality, traffic, noise, climate impact and more.

The sensors installed throughout the city consist in a protective housing, fans and all sensors and connection modules. They are, in short, the utmost expression of the spirit of the Internet of Things put at the service of a city, which makes it a true smart city.

Connecting the city

Of course, launching a project like the AoT is not as simple as installing sensor nodes and turning on a switch. The AoT is an initiative that has been in the works for years. Launched in 2016, this year the project has begun to collect a large amount of real-time data on Chicago's urban environment and activity. In 2018, the data collected in the AoT will be accessible online, providing valuable information for researchers, urban planners and the public at large.

The AoT is the first project that is operating on this scale and level of specificity and connectivity. And this is not because of the sensors, per se. Instead, it is because in addition to connecting the city with analytical equipment, the kind that allows relevant information about its status to be collected, it also connects users and citizens with these data, which gives them the opportunity to decide.

Thus, the Array of Things is probably the project currently underway that best exemplifies how far the IoT can reach by creating a real and practical connection between citizens and their city. The data coming from Chicago’s AoT will allow its inhabitants to live better, and it will allow researchers to propose new management measures, while city managers can set new parameters to manage the city.

IoT and beyond

What impact will the Array of Things have on society? The role of this initiative is potentially very valuable since it allows the joint efforts of all the inhabitants to be directed, and with real values taken in real time. The data currently collected by the sensors include light, air and surface temperature, vibration, amount of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone, barometric pressure, sound intensity, and pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

In the future, the AoT may collect data on floods and standing water, precipitation and wind, among many other possibilities. In short, practically any parameter associated with the city can be monitored and quantified, which allows patterns to be generated and acted on. But as mentioned above, it also involves citizens.

Developers could generate applications or implement this data in existing applications to provide users with more interactivity. This could work in both directions, allowing the information to come from users who could actively assist in the maintenance of the city through their notifications, for example.

In addition, it also provides information on the status of citizens, so this two-way information could be used by city leaders to improve services or adapt the laws according to the information generated. In short, the AoT has shown that thanks to the IoT we can turn a city into an even better place, one that is more efficient, more useful and, above all, more connected.

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Telefónica IoT Team