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News Release 15-104

NSF supports urban-scale instrument to measure city's fitness

$3 million grant to the University of Chicago will prototype smart city technology

Artist rendering of Array of Things nodes mounted on city streetlight poles

The Array of Things uses nodes to gather environmental data in urban environments.

September 14, 2015

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is awarding $3.1 million to the University of Chicago for a new project to create an innovative community technology platform--an instrument that can measure environmental data to help assess a city's fitness.

The award, called the Array of Things (AoT), was announced as part of NSF's commitments at a White House event launching the National Smart Cities Initiative today.

"The Array of Things will be the first research infrastructure to allow researchers to rapidly deploy sensors, embedded systems, computing and communications systems at-scale in an urban environment," said NSF's head of Computer and Information Science and Engineering Jim Kurose.

The AoT project includes a multidisciplinary team of designers, engineers and scientists at the Computation Institute (a joint initiative of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory), the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Northern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

It will fund the development and installation of AoT nodes, ornamental enclosures containing instruments for measuring the urban environment. In partnership with the City of Chicago, 500 nodes will be mounted on streetlight poles around the city by 2017.

The current generation of the AoT nodes contains instruments to measure temperature, barometric pressure, light, vibration, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, ambient sound intensity, pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and surface temperature. All data collected by the nodes will be free and publicly available through the City of Chicago Data Portal and other open data platforms.

This rich new data source will benefit scientists across many disciplines. Public health researchers will be able to study the relationship between diseases--which occur at higher rates in urban areas--and environmental conditions. Climate researchers will have dramatically higher-resolution data than existing weather stations provide, allowing them to study urban micro-climates and creating benefits for hyper-local weather forecasting and energy efficiency. Social scientists can study the dynamics of urban activity in public spaces and the effects on economics and livability.

"AoT will provide a level of detail not available in any city today, and this data will enable scientists, policy makers, and citizens to work together to diagnose urban challenges and design solutions," said Charlie Catlett, AoT principle investigator and Director of the Computation Institute's Urban Center for Computation and Data.

In addition to Catlett, co-investigators on the project include Peter Beckman of the Argonne National Laboratory, Kathleen Cagney of the University of Chicago, Douglas Pancoast of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Michael Papka of Northern Illinois University, and Daniel Work of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Media Contacts
Aaron Dubrow, NSF, (703) 292-4489, email:

Program Contacts
Amy Walton, NSF, (703) 292-9060, email:

Principal Investigators
Charlie Catlett, Argonne National Laboratory, (630) 252-7866, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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