Smart City

Smart City Sentinel

Smart Devices, Smart Infrastructure in Chicago's West Loop

By Cynthia S. Artin

Can the street tell your car where to park? Can you tell a streetlight to turn on? 

To find out, Chicago’s City Tech Collaborative, along with Atonomi will embark on a research project to study how Internet-enabled devices can safely communicate with roads, lighting fixtures and other sensing devices within cities. The project will take place in the West Loop, a rapidly growing Chicago neighborhood.

I had the chance to sit down with City Tech Collaborative Executive Director Brenna Berman and Atonomi President Don DeLoach to discuss the project.

“The Chicago West Loop Pilot is a collaborative research initiative designed to include multiple companies, government entities and community to explore how devices and infrastructure can potentially interact,” said Brenna Berman, Executive Director, City Tech Collaborative. “These interactions between devices like cell phones and smart cars with city infrastructure can potentially improve the quality of life for residents, businesses and visitors.

Berman is the ideal leader to drive this project. She served as the Chief Information Officer for the City of Chicago under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. As CIO, Berman focused the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) on implementing the Mayor’s vision of data-driven resident services and of a more efficient, effective, and innovative city government.

Berman added new technical talent to the DoIT team to increase the focus on software engineering and analytics, improving the department’s commercial partnerships to drive savings for the city, and identifying civic partnerships to collect, manage and utilize data from the urban environment.

Advances in IoT and other advanced technology drove Berman and the City of Chicago to launch City Tech Collaborative. City Tech turns Chicago into “a living lab where multiple interested parties can experiment with new technology to address the issues and opportunities associated with what we believe will be the city of the future.”

Berman has been working with Don DeLoach for many years. DeLoach, who has built and sold several high-tech companies based in Chicago collaborates, with Berman as part of the Midwest IoT Council. 

“Over the last ten years, the West Loop has morphed into one of the most happening neighborhoods in town,” DeLoach said. “Real estate prices are rising. The density of people is increasing. Construction is everywhere. In many ways, this has become an ideal setting in which to explore how devices and the associated owners of those devices within a complex environment will interact in the future. To participate in such a learning exercise is the proposition of this project.”

Berman has learned that as governments, companies and community organizations move into a world of smart and increasingly autonomous, cities, they need to gain insight into how heterogeneous devices, and by extension, those people or organizations, interact.

“The various stakeholders in this ecosystem of the future must understand a complex set of dynamics including the considerations of how devices can be trusted and secured; considerations of how the data from those devices can be shared when it should be and protected from a privacy standpoint when it needs to be,” Berman explained. “They will also need to gain an understanding the possibilities of cleansing, enriching, and propagating data within or beyond their specific organizations to drive more sophisticated operational analytics, investigative analytics, predictive analytics, and ultimately deliver on the promise of unsupervised machine learning where the environment truly adapts and self-optimizes to conditions.”

DeLoach explained that the pilot is intended to bring together companies, government and community organizations from a variety of disciplines to create a representation of the future city to better understand these dynamics. Potential partners will bring both public and private assets, including stationary physical assets like garage doors, street lights, and curbs; transportation assets like cars, buses, bikes, police cars, and garbage trucks; energy and communications equipment and assets like light poles, transformers, microgrids, and radio towers; and machinery and other semi-mobile asses like heavy construction equipment, medical equipment, and charging equipment.

“We are in discussions with a number of organizations that can make a wide range of assets available as part of the project,” DeLoach said. We expect to limit participation to somewhere between 12 and 15 organizations. Our expectation is to announce the specifics of the project and the participation by the middle of February.”

DeLoach shared some use cases that may be deployed as part of the pilot. “We expect to tackle parking availability and management, curb management, road condition awareness, environmental assessment and pollution countermeasures, road and construction hazard proximity detection and illumination, building energy performance posting, water pipe leak detection, bike traffic analysis and routing, route planning for logistics companies and perhaps others brought to the table by participants,” said DeLoach.

City Tech will manage the process of finalizing project participants and running the initial pre-project workshop. City Tech will also provide project management, including stakeholder engagement. “Our hope is that the West Loop Pilot will take place across several square blocks on Chicago’s near west side,” Berman explained. “The public nature of this pilot will require that privacy and community engagement planning and support occur at every step of the project.  City Tech has extensive experience in developing, implementing and driving adoption of public privacy policies and community engagement programs for IoT solutions.  That experience will be put to work to support the West Loop pilot from the very inception of the project.

Once the pilot has completed, the team will assemble a final draft report and various data for the participants. A post-pilot three-day workshop will be held to review the findings and examine what has been learned and how that might be applied looking forward. This will include a detailed analysis of the various elements specified above, as well as an examination of the multiple use cases and their effectiveness.

The pilot outcomes can be utilized by business, community groups, the City of Chicago, and other cities looking to Chicago as an example.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

Contributing Writer

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