Next time you walk down a street in Chicago, take a look at those innocuous and ever-present light poles, because they may not be what they seem. Chicago is installing a network of sensor-equipped lamp posts that will keep track of all kinds of information about the environment and people passing by. The data can be used to help urban planners make the city safer and make traffic flow better while also tracking environmental factors like air quality.
The sensors will keep track of the number of people who walk past by counting cellphones, which can tell city planners if there is a high-traffic area or a choke point that needs adjustment. The sensors can also tell the city if air pollution is rising, or where light or noise levels are higher than they should be, as well as collect data about wind, heat and precipitation. The project starts with just one sensor this July and will eventually launch into thousands across the city.
If it all sounds a bit too invasive, the scientists in charge of the project say that they are making sure the sensors don’t gather any sensitive information from passing cellphones, and that they only count the contact with each phone signal. At the same time, the project has the potential to make the city cleaner, safer and more efficient. They call the project the Array of Things and the city hopes that this is just the beginning of making Chicago a hotbed of innovation, helping researchers understand how modern cities work.