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Chicago turns light poles into data collectors

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The light poles along Chicago's Michigan Avenue will soon do more than illuminate the city's famous street.

The "Array of Things" initiative by the Urban Center for Computation and Data will install data-collecting systems on eight light poles along Michigan Avenue next month, the Chicago Tribune reports. The sensors will be used to measure air quality, heat, light intensity, precipitation, sound volume, and wind. The number of people near the light poles will also be measured by tracking wireless signals from mobile devices.

That data will then be made open to the public, which developers could turn into apps. Charlie Catlett, director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data, tells WBEZ that he envisions the data could be used to improve public safety. For example, an app that show where the most foot traffic is late at night.

If this first run is successful, the project hopes to expand throughout the city in the coming years. There could be as many as 50 light poles equipped with the sensors by the end of the year.

And before cries of Big Brother begin (wait, they already have), Chicago's commissioner of information and technology told the Chicago Tribune that her office "had a say in picking the initial sensor lineup, and she said the list was limited to "nonpersonal" data because the city is still working on a privacy and security policy to govern the protection and confidentiality of any data that the system may collect in the future."

Photo: Flickr/Simon Alexander Jacob

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— By on June 24, 2014, 10:06 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure