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Brief Published: 28 Oct 2014

Smart Street Corners

Array of Things

Smart sensors are being installed on the streets of Chicago to gather real-time big data on the US city. The sensors, which will be mounted on lampposts across the city, will measure environmental factors including air quality, sound levels, light intensity and ambient temperature every 15 seconds. The sensors will also use Bluetooth signals from mobile phones to measure pedestrian density in key areas.

Developed by researchers at Chicago's Urban Centre for Computation and Data, the Array of Things project aims to make the city a cleaner, safer place to live. The data, which will be made publicly available, will be used to improve city services and provide real-time, responsive information to its citizens.

For example, during a cold snap, citizens could receive mobile updates warning of an icy patch on the street ahead. Similarly, during springtime, hay fever sufferers could receive personalised walking routes that avoid areas reporting the highest pollen counts.

The first 40 prototype nodes are scheduled for installation next month across the city. If the pilot goes well, the team plans to deploy another 500 nodes between 2015 and 2017.

By 2050, 66% of the world's population will live in towns and cities (United Nations). This rapid urbanisation is sharpening the need for smart cities that are responsive to the needs of citizens.

From bus networks in Africa to taxi trips in Sweden, big data is emerging as a valuable tool to make cities more efficient and user-friendly. The widespread installation of smart sensors will accelerate this trend towards intuitive urban centres. For more, read Re.Work Cities 2013.