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Chicago to Install Big Brother Like Sensors to Measure Environmental Factors

People in Chicago will soon see metal fixtures wrapped around light poles in several areas throughout the city this summer. They are not decoration however, but data-collection sensors.

Proposed design for a sensor in the Array of Things project. (Photo courtesy of UCCD)

These sensors will be used to measure air quality, light intensity, sound volume, heat, precipitation, wind, and even population density, according to the Chicago Tribune. The information will be made public for use by researchers and application developers.

Headed by Chicago’s Urban Center for Computation and Data (UCCD), the Array of Things project will include 50 sensor boxes installed throughout the city. Residents will be able to receive real time information about the city and specific areas, including pollution levels. This is the first major U.S. city to initiate such a project.

Example of a possible use for air quality data.(Photo coutesy of UCCD)

Citizens do not need to worry about Big Brother like intrusion on their privacy. Privacy protection is one of the top priorities of the project, says Charlie Catlett, Director of UCCD and senior computer scientist at Argonne National Labs and the University of Chicago. The sensors will not have cameras and microphone installed in them.

The sensors are just the beginning, believes UCCD. As sensors installed in cities similar to the Array of Things spread, designers will begin to use the information collected to change the way that cities are built.

“I can anticipate that data about urban interactions will be considered another form of input, another form of material that really has to be understood and shaped and applied to the design process,” said Doug Pancoast, Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute Chicago and UCCD member. “We have to know a lot about steel and glass, and we have to know a lot about data and human interaction to make the environment and objects we think will be useful.”