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  • Writer's pictureVeda Kamaraju

Smart Cities: Urban Sensing

Author: Veda Kamaraju

Smart Cities

Think of the human brain. The complex network of neurons forms the fundamental architecture, as each set of neurons communicate to different parts of the brain. These bustling connections of information map to those in a smart city. With digital technologies working together to collect real-time data and make decisions, smart cities protect and enhance urban life. Through IoT sensors, cameras, social media, and various other platforms, a smart city collects data that would serve in proposing new ways to better lives. Taking the matter of safety, applications for traffic safety or optimal emergency response can be developed based on population information. Analysis to highlight patterns of criminal activity within specific areas has the potential to anticipate crime ahead of time. Furthermore, with commute times being disproportionately high in urban cities, smart applications can save the average commuter approximately 15 minutes a day, as well as improving public transportation. Incorporating technology in healthcare remains crucial for alleviating chronic disease. Data and analytics on different demographic groups and their health would set forth new solutions. One of the most common uses of data from smart-city technologies is environmental monitoring. The process of “sensing” the environment is known as urban sensing.

Problems of Urban Life

68% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050. With large numbers of civilians living close together, several problems with the quality of life emerge. Fiscal issues are common among cities, as services, such as policing, education, trash removal, or street maintenance, are difficult to implement in poor neighborhoods. Another major problem is crowding, both residential and household crowding. With city streets lined with apartments, condominiums, and other forms of housing, the number of people living on one block is alarming. In Manhattan, the number of people per square mile approximates to 68,000 people, while the population density of Idaho remains only 19 people per square mile. If a much smaller city than Manhattan is assessed, such as Ames, Iowa, the population density of Ames would be 124 times greater than the entirety of Idaho. Especially with low-income families, household crowding is typical, and found to produce higher levels of depression, stress, and aggression. Although urban housing is characterized by technical problems as malfunctioning appliances and infestation, prices can be quite high while residents’ incomes are low, leading to much homelessness throughout cities. A defining stress of urban life is the traffic and transportation. Gridlock occurs too often in such areas, making commute times unbelievably high. In an attempt to ease this situation, cities are working to improve public transportation as the alternative option. Additionally, congestion contributes significantly to air pollution, reducing the air quality to a substandard level. The health consequences are innumerable, as it impairs respiratory and cardiovascular functions. A common disadvantage of city life is crime. Violent crime rates are exceedingly high compared to rural areas. These problems are crucial to recognize, as smart cities work to alleviate them.

Urban Sensing

At the intersection of environment, health, and technology, urban sensing involves the collection of real-time data from environmental sensors to design safer and smarter cities. The digitization of urban spaces leads to major changes in urban living. This project area centers around wireless sensing technologies to increase infrastructural efficiency. Air Quality is measured with Air Quality Index, or AQI. It shows the changes in the amount of pollution in the air on a scale from 0 to 500. Just the sheer amount of traffic results in higher rates of respiratory and heart disease. Many urban residents bicycle in traffic to and from work for exercise. However, doing so exposes them to air pollution from the traffic, shown to impair their cardiovascular and respiratory functioning. How can this problem be eased? Several air quality systems have been developed to combat similar issues. The senseable city lab at MIT conducted a study as to how much of urban areas can be monitored through sensors on taxis? The project revealed that merely 10 taxis can sense one-third of Manhattan's streets per day.

Introduction to IoT

The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the billions of devices around the world, connected to the internet, that “talk” or communicate with each other by collecting and sharing data. Those seemingly ubiquitous sensors and cameras are IoT devices. Wireless sensor networks are fundamental to an urban sensing environment.

Array of Things: Chicago

An urban measurement project, the Array of Things, was launched to change our perception of cities. Imagine if your phone alerted you that the place you were heading to had too many people in crowds, increasing the risk of catching COVID-19. The AoT is a system that consists of “nodes” with sensors and computing capabilities to collect and process data. These nodes were installed in Chicago to capture real-time data of the city’s infrastructure, activity, air quality, and populations through temperature, pressure, carbon monoxide, multi-gas sensors, and cameras. In 2016, the Array of Things team installed 500 nodes on city streets tracking urban features. City departments utilize this open-source program to preserve clean air and safe roads. This initiative helps researchers, policymakers, and the public to make cities healthier and more efficient. In essence, smart city platforms work to enhance the quality of life in urban areas through innovative technologies. Urban sensing remains at the forefront of change within cities and is the next step towards more efficient, healthier, and productive lives.


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Author Biography: Veda Kamaraju is a junior at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley, San Jose, CA. With an ardent interest in developments at the intersection of technology and healthcare, she conducts independent scientific research and participates in local science fairs. Her projects aim to alleviate real-world issues, ranging from chronic disease to air pollution. As part of the Nontrivial Solution Project, Veda is excited to discuss groundbreaking research on health AI and technology. In her free time, she loves to help young students start their own innovative pursuits.

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