Insights & Connections

Expanding Array of Things Aims to Help Put Data to Work for Cities

Systems connected: Higher education, data collection, stormwater management, air quality

by / March 29, 2016
Urban Center for Computation and Data Director Charlie Catlett shows off the Array of Things modular sensor box, which is to be attached to a pole in the city of Chicago, to collect real-time data on the city's environment, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use. His hands are resting on the shell that protects the sensors, while allowing for the necessary air flow required to measure air quality. Alex Garcia

The Array of Things project — in which participant cities will place data-gathering nodes on infrastructure to support projects with public service in mind — is intentionally open-ended as to what exact benefits it will bring. That’s because the people behind the project at the Urban Center for Computation and Data want to let users experiment and find innovative ways to use their technology.

At the core of it all is a tie between data collection systems and higher education. The sensors would create new datasets that could bolster the information gleaned from existing data, opening up new ways to use it. And the project is only looking to cities that have partnerships with higher education or research institutions because those places have the technical expertise to make the data actionable. That gives experience to faculty members and scientists while simultaneously opening up learning opportunities for students.

But as the project expands outside of Chicago, with Seattle being the most likely second city in the U.S. to get its hands on the sensors, more use cases are bubbling to the surface. Seattle plans on modifying the nodes to help collect hyperlocal data on rainfall. That would allow the city to better identify when and where it can expect flooding, and respond accordingly.

Another probable use for the sensors would be placing one on a bus route and another a few blocks away, which would give some insight into how buses affect air quality in the city.