Chicago's New Lamp Posts Will Track Pollution and Count People

The walls—or lamp posts, at least—have ears. Chicago is rolling out some new street furniture, and it will be able to measure air quality, monitor noise and even count pedestrians.

The Chicago Tribune explains that the "curled metal fixtures" will appear on Michigan Avenue lamp posts as soon as July, and will measure air quality, light intensity, sound volume, heat, precipitation, and wind. They'll also monitor cell phone traffic to count the number of people passing by.

A joint initiative between the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, the idea is to gather fine-grained detail about what's happening within the city, to understand how people use it—and impact upon it—better. In turn, it should help show where air pollution is on the rise, or if a narrow sidewalks are creating choke points.

Residents worried about privacy should be able to rest fairly easy, though: the project is designed to store the data it collects in anonymous forms. "Most companies don't care about you, they care about people like you," Gary King, director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences at Harvard University, told the Tribune.

It's not the first time a city has gathered Big Data from its streets, but it could be first time permanent infrastructure has rolled out across an entire urban landscape. If initial trials go to plan, there will be "hundreds more across the city in years to come as the project expands into neighborhoods," and planners hope it will provide a permanent system of data collection boxes for researchers. [Chicago Tribune via Engadget]

Image by Jacob Surland under Creative Commons license