By Rob Mitchum // September 9, 2014
UPDATE: Array of Things has been nominated for the Cooper Hewitt People’s Design Award! Vote here until October 6th.
Many people now wear wristbands or other devices to track their activity, giving them access to rich data about their daily routine that can help guide them towards healthier decisions and behaviors. The ambitious Array of Things project, led by the Urban Center for Computation and Data, seeks to create a similar bounty of data to better understand the environment, infrastructure, and activity of cities, creating a new public instrument for research, education, and applications that improve the lives of city residents.
At the heart of the project is a network of modular, interactive sensors, the first wave of which will be installed this fall at the University of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Argonne National Laboratory. Those sensor nodes, which monitor temperature, humidity, light, sound, air quality, vibration, and other measures, will publish open data several times a minute for use by developers and the community. Potential applications include a route-finder for planning walks during the healthiest or most populated times, higher resolution and up-to-date weather information for different areas of the city, and street and sidewalk temperature monitoring to guide more efficient salting during winter storms.
Today, the Array of Things website launches with detailed information about the project, its goals, the data it will collect, and how it will ensure privacy and security. Future updates will provide information about the technical specifications of the nodes, community workshops to collaborate with Array of Things researchers on the design, placement, and operation of the sensor nodes, and instructions for accessing and working with the data once the first wave of prototype nodes are live. If you have questions about the project, send an e-mail to email@example.com, or interact with the project on Twitter at @arrayofthings.
Some recent media coverage also provides more detailed illustrations of the goals and potential of the Array of Things project. A story in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s E+D Magazine reports on an early trial with high school students on the South Side, previewing the community relationships that will make the network an interactive public utility.
The SAIC team is inherently designing the participatory elements of the project that are embedded in both the physicality of the devices and the dialogues that they will engender. The nodes’ approachable, highly sculptural forms, more akin in both appearance and function to delicate pieces of public art than to big brother surveillance, will be placed close to eye level.
“By involving the community in the process of the project early on, we’re helping to engender a sense of ownership to these devices,” [SAIC graduate student Satya Mark] Basu notes. “It’s not ‘the mayor’s sensor network’ or ‘the city’s devices,” but ‘neighborhood nodes’ that could be doing any number of things to improve the quality of life in a community. These are powerful tools.”
Additionally, a video report from Bloomberg TV spoke to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman about the project and its potential to help the city get ahead of problems before they arise and find new, smarter ways of using data to make Chicago more livable and efficient for all residents. A diagram of the prototype node structure is below.