Recently ranked as one of the top innovative tech hubs in the world, Chicago’s prowess in the industry is on the rise. The Windy City is embedding smart tech into its infrastructure allowing residents, businesses, and governments to become more digitally-engaged through the application of big data, the internet of things, machine learning and data analysis. In fact, Chicago’s tech talent, innovations, and startups are positioning it as a leading tech city in the years to come.

In 2008, the newly formed Department of Innovation and Technology introduced plans to leverage Chicago as a city with leading-edge technology that empowers, inspires, and engages citizens and stakeholders.

Now, Chicago is on the path to providing a more stable economy and higher quality of life for its constituents with a new technology plan. Let’s look at just some of the high tech initiatives that seek to develop advanced infrastructure, smart communities, and more effective government initiatives in Chicago:

Next Generation Infrastructure

Chicago offers many new developments to improve the lifestyles of its diverse communities. Currently, it is focused on improving speed, data availability, and affordability of WiFi throughout the city.  By improving its high-tech infrastructure, Chicago hopes to create more sustainable and inclusive communities with these projects:

Beach Water Quality Automated Sensors

Sensors are maintained along Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline. In the summer, the sensors document water temperature, turbidity, wave height, and important data. Implemented in 2014, the information is now available through City’s Open Data Portal during the summer seasons for Chicago residents. Information on beach quality and conditions are updated by the hour. Researchers also find this valuable because it they can correlate it with other weather and climate data.

Array of Things

An initiative that is unique to Chicago offers new ways to generate and collect city data. Growing amounts are offered to the public and funded by a National Science Foundation grant which supports the University of Chicago’s Urban Center for Computation and Data project, the Array of Things (see Using Technology & Emotions to Make Cities Better. The project mounts sensors on light poles and is a definitive model for other cities. The network features sensors that collect data on air quality, temperature, light, humidity, noise level, carbon monoxide/dioxide levels, and pedestrian foot traffic in some of Chicago’s downtown areas. Updated every minute, the project will offer researchers and policymakers resources for studying how cities function and it will allow Chicago to become a leader in urban sensing initiatives. The network is expected to grow in potential over the next few years with grant funding.

Smart Health Centers

Over 20 Smart Health Centers within established health clinics opened in the past two years. Managed by the Smart Chicago Collaborative, they provide patients with technologies and trained health information specialists, also known as Health Navigators. They are trained to assist patients in accessing their personal health records and finding reliable health information/advice online. They also train patients in digital skills. Modeled after the CyberNavigator program, it assists more than 7,000 patients and offers one-on-one assistance through more than 3,000 group training sessions.

Free Wi-Fi in Public Spaces

The City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District plan to expand services for free Wi-FI in parks and other public areas throughout Chicago. Starting in 2014, Chicago partnered with Google to offer free wireless service in Garfield Park and the South Shore Cultural Center. Soon, public-private partnerships will allow wireless at several commercial areas like North Avenue, Osterman/Hollywood, and Montrose beaches, among others.  A pilot program with SilverIP Communications will also offer wireless access at Millennium Park. In addition, free wireless services provided at Chicago Public Library branches, the City Colleges of Chicago, and other city facilities have been improved to accommodate more users. Now, 21 senior centers, six community service centers, and public buildings throughout the city have access to free Wi-Fi.

Government Initiatives:


Chicago has been known for its high crime rates. However, the police department has volunteered a new strategy for quelling crime on the streets. Introduced in February 2017, a new technology called ShotSpotter hones in on areas with gunfire while a second computer system turns on cameras to the largest network of surveillance in the country to help locate suspects and victims. Offering real time information, the new technology helps police officers and healthcare professionals assist victims and build safer communities. Pinpointing the exact location of the shot saves time and allows responders to be on scene helping five to seven minutes faster than before.

Open Data Portal

The Open Data Portal offers user-friendly access for over 600 data sets, with over 200 of those created over the past two years. The general public can browse and download data to assess and create graphics like maps and graphs. The civic developer community uses this tool to create helpful civic apps, like which allows residents to get reminders about street sweeping, and which allows residents to find a local pharmacy or healthcare establishment that offers flu shots. Volunteers and civic-focused residents use the data source for meetups, hackathons, and learning initiatives centered around Chicago’s open data.

In 2013, Chicago released their first Open Data Report, reviewing the city’s progress and advancement in open-government initiatives and strategies. In 2014, Chicago released high-value data sets to the public which including water data on Chicago beaches, law enforcement, and public vehicles.

Residents and researchers can also suggest edits to the selected data sets through the city’s GitHub account. The site contains data on street locations, pedway routes, bike racks and routes, and building footprints. All data is provided via a free business-friendly format so that businesses and startups can efficiently utilize the information.

The Impacts of Smart Technology

Once completely utilized, these initiatives and programs have the power to improve job creation, quality of life, and build revenue and savings for government operations. Soon, other innovative US cities may follow Chicago’s lead in developing more integrated and transformative technologies for the benefit of its residents and economy.