3.2 Sensing the city
Cities around the world are experimenting with city sensor networks and conducting trials of how they might help to monitor everything from noise levels to managing parking spaces and health.
Christchurch in New Zealand has a Sensing City project run by the, a non-profit organisation working with Christchurch stakeholders to help them understand how data can inform decisions about city management. A network of digital sensors is being integrated into the physical infrastructure of the city as it is rebuilt following a devastating earthquake in 2011. One of their initiatives focuses on the impact of air pollution on respiratory disease and involves recruiting 150 people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Each person recruited is given a ‘Smartinhaler’ kit that automatically records where and when they use their medication. Data is transmitted via smartphone to a secure database and it can then be overlaid with air-quality data recorded around the city at the same time, using around 30 sensors. In addition to developing a deeper understanding about COPD, the project should produce practical benefits for patients, who will be able to receive treatment earlier or even avert the need to go to hospital (Pearson, 2014).
Chicago is creating an Array of Things – a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes collecting real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure and activity. The goal is to improve understanding of the natural and built environment of the city and its impact on the lives of the people who live and work there. Factors being sensed include climate, air quality and noise. The project is seen as creating a ‘fitness tracker’ for Chicago. The data, which is designated as being for research and public use, will be made available to residents, software developers, scientists and policymakers. Human activity is being detected by three of the sensors: a sound sensor collects data on ambient volume; an infrared camera pointed at nearby roads and sidewalks collects surface temperature information; and a wireless network can count the number of Bluetooth- or Wi-Fi-enabled devices in the vicinity, acting as a proxy for pedestrian traffic. No personal or identifying information is involved.
Sensing London is a project led by the Future Cities Catapult working with Intel Collaborative Research Institute (which includes Intel Laboratories, UCL and Imperial College), the Royal Parks, London Borough of Enfield, ScienceScope and City Insights. Five living labs have been created across London – at Hyde Park, Brixton, Enfield, Elephant and Castle, and Tower Bridge – where sensors measure a range of physical parameters including air quality and human activity. Analysis of the data improves knowledge about how people use infrastructures. The findings are also being used to assess the impact that cities themselves have on human health, well-being and the natural environment. Potential new solutions could include apps to help people with asthma to navigate the city, new business models that allow green spaces to prosper despite uncertain funding, and evidence to justify business cases for new technologies and infrastructure.
You’ll explore Sensing London’s air-quality sensors and other examples of city sensor networks as the week progresses.