CEE Professor Leading Smart Cities Project on Green Storm Water Infrastructure in Chicago

Mike Koon, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

An example of infiltration planters (image courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
An example of infiltration planters (image courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
The streets of Chicago will be getting smarter, literally, through a new UI LABS City Digital project being led by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Civil and Environmental Engineering Research Assistant Professor Joshua Peschel. As part of a unique interdisciplinary effort, including personnel from the University of Illinois, Argonne National Laboratory, and the City of Chicago, along with UI LABS’s corporate partners, Peschel and his team will develop the next generation of sensing and sense-making tools for green storm water infrastructure.

The Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring project is one of two pilot projects announced today by City Digital, a Chicago-based consortium focused on data-driven urban innovation with the built environment. It was also one of a handful of projects nationwide highlighted today by the White House at its Smart Cities Forum, which kicks off Smart Cities Week. The goal of the White House event is “to bring together leading thinkers and practitioners from government, the research community, cities, civil society, and the tech sector to discuss the multi-sector collaborations that will help our cities thrive in the 21st century.”

Green infrastructure, which includes elements such as porous asphalt and infiltration bump outs brings into engineering design vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage water and create healthier urban environments. Peschel’s project will measure the health, performance, and effectiveness of green infrastructure in the City of Chicago by deploying new low-cost sensors and innovative software tools across five pilot urban streetscapes.

“The traditional way of monitoring storm water infrastructure, if done at all, is with expensive measurements that are often very sparse in space and time”, Peschel said. “This project seeks to fill the data gaps by adding unique measurement techniques and intelligence to these new green streets in Chicago.”

City Digital’s pilot experiments are supported by a commitment from the City of Chicago to open its assets and infrastructure for technology experimentation to drive innovation and change. Each pilot’s completion plan includes a pathway to commercialization so that successful pilots can be extended throughout Chicago and to other cities nationally and globally almost immediately.

UI LABS provides a neutral environment for companies, cities and universities to jointly identify and solve large infrastructure challenges and then commercialize those solutions broadly.

Microsoft, who has a strong focus on cloud-computing and ubiquitous sensing, is a key corporate collaborator in this project. Peschel is working closely with Spyros Sakellariadis, Principal Program Manager of MS Applied Technologies in the Azure Machine Learning Team, to develop the smart infrastructure analytics toolset in the cloud for civil and environmental engineers.

“This is a great opportunity to bring value to the urban and scientific communities using many of the tools Microsoft has created in the IoT (Internet of Things) and data analytics spaces,” Sakellariadis said. “We are collecting and analyzing data at a rate that would be impossible without the use of cloud-based computing, and plan to be modernizing many of the legacy statistical models with our machine learning tools within the Cortana Analytics suite. This partnership with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign brings together the best of both worlds –- the top civil and environmental engineering department at Illinois with Microsoft’s data scientists and best-of-class software tools.”

This past week Peschel and Sakellariadis presented an initial set of smart water recommendations to key software engineers, data scientists, and business decision-makers, at the first-of-its-kind Cortana Analytics Workshop at the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington. Among these recommendations were to parallelize and transition existing water models to web services running in the cloud. Doing so allows for the ease of extending the capabilities of the models and improving substantially the computational speeds to obtain predictive results.

Peschel concluded, “As we transition to a smart infrastructure and send billions of data points to the cloud (over one million data points per month will come from the five Chicago sites alone), it is imperative that we adopt a new paradigm in civil and environmental engineering tools. This is the new foundation we are building right now.”