nodeChicago is in the midst of an interesting experiment. They are deploying more than a thousand sensors across the city that anyone can freely connect too, adding more data into the array, and anyone can access real-time data freely, allowing the community to diagnose and create applications and answers to city problems themselves. It has been described as the Fitbit for a City.

The sensors collect a range of data, all non-attributable to individuals, about the surrounding environment. The temperature around the sensor, particulates in the air, carbon monoxide, other pollution, ambient noise, pedestrian movement, other traffic movement, micro-climate information, vibration, and a host of other data.

This then allows the resident block-by-block information.

  • Sensors monitoring air quality, sound and vibration (to detect heavy vehicle traffic), and temperature can be used to suggest the healthiest and unhealthiest walking times and routes through the city.
  • Infrared cameras measuring sidewalk and street temperature can guide salting responses during winter storms, allowing for targeted application of salt that saves money and prevents environmental damage.
  • Measurements of micro-climate in different areas of the city, so that residents can get up-to-date, high-resolution “block-by-block” weather information: by the lake, in a specific neighborhood, at the baseball game.
  • Observe which areas of the city are heavily populated by pedestrians at different times of day to suggest safe and efficient routes for walking late at night or for timing traffic lights during peak traffic hours. – Source

Here’s something that all cities need to consider and implement:

All data will be published with multiple updates per minute, openly and at no cost, following the City of Chicago’s established practice that data about the city is not monetized but is provided as a public utility.

In addition, all software, hardware, parts, and specifications will also be published as open source, to encourage participation and oversight from the developer community and public. You can view the architecture of the prototype nodes here. Full specifications will be available soon at our Github page, when the initial node design is finalized.

In New Zealand, we are still seeing attempts at monetisation of publicly owned data, here’s looking at you Infratil. The reality is that for a progressive city, open sourcing Smart City advances the concept rapidly, as opposed to being tied down by commercial dinosaurs, greed heads, and corporate entities.

The cost is not that high, for example, in Wellington, the cost of the outdoor sandpit in Civic Square would have bought about 150 sensors. Better yet, we can make those sensors ourselves in the community as a project, utilising schools, hackathons, and geeks. People with no skills in this area can be taught in a couple of hours how to build sensors and attach them to the Internet.

The Chicago initiative shows how a city can be made Smarter, more livable, and leads the way by it’s openness. Open data, open sensor design information, open applications, and all available via Github. It is owned by the community and supported via Council and private enterprise, not controlled by private enterprise and then delivered back via the council, which is a recipe for total failure.

it’s almost worth a Civic Hackathon to test the idea.

Radio New Zealand – Interview on the Array of Things

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