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A drawing of one of Array of Things' smart sensors.

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CHAMPAIGN — After privacy concerns were raised last year, the Champaign City Council will once again discuss tonight whether to allow the University of Illinois to install five “smart sensors” around the city.

The sensors will measure atmospheric conditions such as temperature and ozone levels, as well as images and audio to calculate traffic counts and “ambient sound intensity,” according to a memo from city staff.

When the sensors were discussed in February 2020, some council members questioned how the imagery would be handled.

In the memo, staff said the data collected would be available for public viewing, but not the raw imagery or sounds.

And once the images are processed to detect items such as flooding, car and bicycle traffic counts or storm conditions, they would be deleted, according to the sensors’ operating policy.

The city would also be able to deactivate the cameras, and the imagery wouldn’t be subject to open-records requests, as it is automatically deleted after it is processed.

The sensors would be part of the “Array of Things” project led by researchers from Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago. The goal is to provide real-time data about the city’s infrastructure and environment.

“The data will help cities operate more efficiently and realize cost savings by anticipating and proactively addressing challenges such as urban flooding and traffic safety,” according to the memo. The “Array of Things” “will essentially serve as a ‘fitness tracker’ for the city, measuring factors that impact livability in cities such as climate, air quality and noise.”

Under the agreement with the UI, the university would pay to install the sensors and do most of the maintenance, while the city would pay for the electricity needed to operate the sensors.

The sensors would be located at the intersections of Walnut and Logan streets, Neil Street and Springfield Avenue, First Street and Kirby Avenue, Green and Wright streets, and Logan and First streets, and any additional sensors would need the city manager’s approval.

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