The Array of Things

By: Adriana Rakshana

On January 18th 2017, TechTeam organized an information forum about the pioneering Array of Things project recently launched in Chicago.

Argonne National Laboratory team members Charlie Catlett and Kate Kusiak Galvin talked about the Array of Things project, its current timeline and future plans for deployment. Over 50 students and researchers showed up to learn about the initiative.

So, what exactly is the Array of Things?

According to the Array of Things website, “The Array of Things (AoT) is an urban sensing project, a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes that will be installed around Chicago to collect real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use. AoT will serve as a “fitness tracker” for the city, measuring factors that impact livability in Chicago such as climate, air quality and noise.”[1]

Essentially, the Array of Things (AoT) is a network of sensors that monitors different factors in the city’s environment and infrastructure, which can be used to analyze changes in trends over time.

Catlett explained that the AoT nodes have different components that collect different measurements, including air quality and weather data. This will provide place-based information to help engineers, scientists, policymakers and residents improve citizen life and create smarter cities.

Array of Things data will be open and freely available to the public. A central database server at the Argonne National Laboratory stores the data. Researchers and interested members of the public can use AoT data to develop new data analysis tools and applications. Additionally, policymakers can use data to inform urban planning.

Audience Questions

In response to questions from the audience, Catlett explained that the AoT nodes can be modified to collect a variety of different types of information. The nodes can help with any research or planning project that social scientists, policymakers and innovators can effectively fathom and develop.

Students also asked about the privacy of the data collected, given that camera sensors would be mounted on traffic lights around the city. Catlett emphasized that all image processing would take place within the node, and all data recorded would be non-identifying. A Technical Security and Privacy Group will regularly review the software and data being collected in order to maintain privacy.

What’s next?

The Array of Things gathers information about a city’s infrastructure, environment and potentially much more. This data can ultimately influence policy decisions and promote further scientific innovation. Array of Things data will be used to address energy efficiency, traffic safety, urban flooding, air pollution, and other urban challenges.

As a technological innovation, the Array of Things urban sensor network holds the potential to influence the lives of citizens at scale. It will reshape how we think about technology, and how we think about cities.

For more information on Array of Things, contact aot@uchicago.edu.