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Slicker City

Chicago's Futuristic Lamp Posts Will Track Pedestrians, Air Quality, Sound Levels

The Windy City will install metal fixtures concealing a sensor system on lamp posts, but some privacy advocates are nervous.

Chicago's Futuristic Lamp Posts Will Track Pedestrians, Air Quality, Sound Levels

[Image: Flickr user Señor Codo]

Just how windy is the Windy City? We're about to find out.

Next month, researchers will begin installing a complex system of sensors on lamp posts along Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Concealed within "curled metal fixtures," they'll monitor everything from air quality, heat, precipitation, and wind to light intensity, sound volume, and even the number of cell phones in the area as a proxy for pedestrian traffic, the Chicago Tribune reports.

A joint initiative between the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, the sculpture-like devices—designed by students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—will gather data to better understand the city and make it safer to live. Scientists involved also hope that the project will help Chicago attract more technological research.

Still, some advocates are nervous these monitoring efforts will invade the privacy of residents and visitors. Project researchers say the sensors don't have any cameras or recording devices and are unable to identify people—for example, the sensor system can collect sound levels but won't record actual sound.

The first sensor system, covering eight intersections on Michigan Avenue, should be installed by mid-July. Eventually, the project will expand to hundreds more posts in other neighborhoods, as well.