Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Smart cities
Smart cities

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2 Sensing the city

A cityscape graphic with 10 icons on shields for various types of sensor network.
Figure 4 A cityscape.

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.

Making Sense [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] is a multi-partners European Union funded project running between 2015 and 2017. It is exploring how open source software and hardware, digital maker practices and open design can be used by local communities to fabricate their own sensing tools which they use to measure environmental variables such as air, water, soil and sound pollution. The project is orchestrating nine campaigns across Amsterdam, Barcelona and Prishtina where communities are co-creating technology which helps to address the local issues they are interested in.

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.