Chicago is one of America's foremost examples of how smart cities can positively impact the lives of residents by monitoring traffic patterns, increasing air quality and reducing electricity consumption.

Michael Cusanelli, Associate Editor

April 29, 2016

4 Min Read
Smart City Spotlight: Chicago

When you think “Chicago,” what comes to mind?

Navy Pier? Deep-dish pizza from Gino’s East? Maybe it’s ‘Da Bears or Wrigley Field?

Chicago, of course, is known for many things, including economic PHDs by the bus load, influential architectural gems such as Marina City and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, and world-class works of art including Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

In addition to these wonders, Chicago aims to be know for another thing: digital innovation. In recent years, the city has invested millions of dollars in smart technology devoted to making the lives of its citizens better. While the city’s digital infrastructure remains a work in progress, Chicago is a prime example of how IoT-ready solutions can positively impact residents and enable progress.

Aside from using IoT sensors for municipal functions such as traffic management and remote monitoring of public infrastructure, the city of Chicago is working with outside organizations to improve public safety, drive energy efficiency efforts and improve environmental factors such as air quality and the cleanliness of water.

As of January, Chicago became one of the first cities in America to implement AT&T’s smart city network of free services. Several of the possible uses for AT&T’s technology include gunfire detection software similar to the type used by the NYPD as well as delivering real-time information to drivers about traffic light outages. AT&T already offers services such as smart utility meters and water systems, and is planning to add additional functionality for digital signage and citizen engagement via mobile apps, according to the Chicago Tribune.

While AT&T’s Smart City Network is among the latest developments in Chicago’s technological transformation, city officials and private organizations have been working to implement smart technology for several years.

One of the most prominent efforts is a group called Smart Chicago Collaborative, which is working with the University of Chicago and its Urban Center for Computation and Data on the “Array of Things” project. The group makes use of funds available through the federal government’s “Smart Cities” Initiative. Earlier this month, the group helped launch a new initiative called Connect Chicago, which strives to provide wider access to broadband Internet connectivity throughout the city.

Chicago’s Array of Things project is the city’s most prominent and well-publicized IoT project, and seeks to create the “first such network to serve as an infrastructure for researchers to rapidly deploy sensors, embedded systems, computing, and communications systems at scale in an urban environment.” The system consists of a network of boxes mounted on light poles that can be used to analyze and alert citizens about conditions such as air quality, carbon monoxide levels and more.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city government have also started a Smart Grid project meant to increase energy efficiency throughout homes and buildings in Chicago as well as to save residents money on their electric bills. The city expects to have installed more than four million smart meters by 2018.

As you might expect, there are several channel companies helping to make Chicago one of the smartest, safest and most efficient city on earth. This includes efforts to run data centers there more efficiently (Chicago is home to some of the world's largest, including the 1.1 million sq. ft. Lakeside Technology Center owned by Digital Realty Trust) and develop Smarty City Solutions.

Uturn Data Solutions, a Chicago-based IT consultancy, is another company that is working with the City to launch OpenGrid, a situational awareness tool that uses open source data to help monitor IoT devices throughout the city. OpenGrid is an open source version of WindyGrid, an enterprise geographic information system implemented in 2012. Uturn was responsible for developing a service layer for, a solution that allows users to view and access multiple data sets via a single pane of glass.

Of course, the influx of sensors, switches and automated solutions creates a veritable wealth of opportunities for other potential partners (including Xaptum, a local IoT startup that specializes in building infrastructure for connected devices) looking to sell to customers in both the private and public sectors. The need for Bluetooth connectivity and wireless internet services alone are bound to foster demand for managed solutions, while the installation, maintenance and proper placement of surveillance equipment, water quality meters and traffic sensors will enable channel partners of all stripes to play within the same market. Unlike many other markets limited by decreasing demand and tightly ingrained customer/partner relationships, smart cities stand to become a market that is only limited by partners’ imaginations and their willingness to match their customers’ enthusiasm.

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About the Author(s)

Michael  Cusanelli

Associate Editor, Penton Technology Group, Channel

Michael Cusanelli is the associate editor for Penton Technology’s channel properties, including The VAR Guy, MSPmentor and Talkin' Cloud. He has written articles and produced video for and is a graduate of Stony Brook University's School of Journalism in New York. In his spare time Michael likes to play video games, watch sci-fi movies and participate in all things nerdy. He can be reached at [email protected]


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