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Big Brother? Street sensors to collect data in downtown Chicago

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Chicago project seeks to install as many as 50 sensors to downtown street lamps to track everything from foot traffic to noise levels to pollution in an effort to make the Windy City more efficient.

The Urban Center for Computation and Data, which unites scientists from the University of Chicago and the Argonne National Laboratory, has taken the lead on the project, called "Array of Things," which seeks to establish a prototype in the next couple of weeks, the Chicago Tribune reported.

In addition to wind, heat, light intensity and precipitation, the sensors will collect the number of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices within about a 100-foot range to try and estimate foot traffic.

Some critics are skeptical that personal information will be collected on private citizens.

"We don't collect things that can identify people. There are no cameras or recording devices," computer scientist Charlie Catlett, director of the Urban Center, told the Tribune.

Sensors will be collecting "sound levels but not recording actual sound. The only imaging will be infrared," rather than video, he said.

"Urban sensing" has been a top priority for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as he's outlined in the city's technology plan, USA Today reported.

"We want to know as much about our city as we can because we know we can use that information to deliver services more efficiently and effectively," Brenna Berman, the city's chief information officer, told the paper.

Ms. Berman said the investment from the city will be between $215 and $425 in city electrician wages to install each sensor and then an estimated $15 a year to keep them running.

Mr. Catlett's team is seeking additional funding from the National Science Foundation, which would allow them to install hundreds of sensors throughout Chicago, USA Today reported.

The first of the sensors could appear along Michigan Avenue as soon as July.

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