May 8, 2018

City Tech Collaborative, the City of Chicago, Microsoft, AECOM and Opti today are announcing results of an 18-month pilot that monitored and compared green infrastructure flood prevention measures side-by-side.

The pilot validated the fact that green infrastructure slows the progress of water into city sewers when it rains. And it demonstrated how cloud platforms can enable live collection and analysis of decentralized data sources.

Four test locations, installed around Chicago, were equipped with custom-designed sensors that have collected data since spring 2017. It’s the first experiment of its kind, combining the Internet of Things, above-ground monitoring and environmentally sustainable flood prevention methods.

The purpose of such infrastructure is to absorb water and delay its release into city sewers, which helps reduce the surge of water that hits the system when it rains. When too much water enters the sewers at once, it can back up into basements or lead to sewer water being released into the Chicago river and other waterways.

Despite many cities’ financial commitment, they don’t yet fully know the most effective ways to deploy and maintain these types of infrastructure, which range from permeable pavement to bioswales and planters.

In this pilot, which began in October 2016, IoT sensors were developed and installed at four green infrastructure locations across the city. They collected micro-weather and soil moisture data, which were sent live to the Microsoft cloud.

The pilot tested the ability of the technology to collect data reliably and survive deployment in Chicago’s climate and urban environment. It also sought to evaluate how the data could improve the future design and operation of green infrastructure.

The four Chicago sites are:

  • Porous asphalt on Langley Avenue in the Roseland neighborhood on the city’s South Side.
  • Permeable pavers and tree-pit filters on Cottage Grove in Chatham on the city’s South Side.
  • A bioswale outside UI LABS on Goose Island. A bioswale is a trench-like depression covered with vegetation.
  • Permeable pavers and infiltration planters installed on Argyle Street in the Uptown neighborhood on the city’s North Side.

Data from this pilot is available publicly on the Chicago Open Data Portal, and pilot team member AECOM, a fully integrated global infrastructure firm, reviewed a year’s worth of data and determined each structure’s relative effectiveness. The results show that:

  • The bioswale outside UI LABS and the porous pavement on Langley Avenue performed most successfully during rain events. AECOM define success as a detectable and consistent increase in soil saturation when it rained, which means that water was not immediately flowing into the sewer.
  • Performance of green infrastructure was consistent no matter the volume of rain
  • The types of data collected can be used to inform future engineering design recommendations, ranging from security to coordinated planning.
  • The effort and cost of green infrastructure monitoring can be reduced through automated notification of when sensor maintenance is required. For example, during the pilot, maintenance alerts were issued during the pilot when the monitoring equipment went offline.

“Cities face critical water and environmental challenges. This project empowers city planners, policy-makers, and researchers to develop creative solutions,” said Elizabeth Grossman Director of National Partnerships & Programs in the Microsoft Cities Team. “By harnessing cloud, data and mobile technologies, we can gather, share and analyze data in new ways that improve community safety, sustainability and quality of life.”

“We are excited to see the technology developed at City Tech prove effective in the future design and maintenance of flood prevention infrastructure,” said Brenna Berman, executive director of City Tech, which transforms cities into testbeds for new ideas.

“Green infrastructure does more than manage flooding; it can make cities more livable and resilient. The ability to track and verify the multiple benefits of green infrastructure is an important and exciting breakthrough nationally, and we are already looking for opportunities to incorporate the advanced monitoring into our projects,” said Bill Abolt, AECOM vice president, Energy.

“Cities are some of the most complex systems we have ever built and they cannot thrive without effective water management,” said Marcus Quigley, CEO of Opti. “We now have new ways of interacting with these systems and we were able to demonstrate in this pilot the new roles that technology can play in operating and maintaining systems to benefit communities.”

Technology developed during this pilot is currently offered to cities by Opti.

About City Tech Collaborative

City Tech transforms cities into testbeds for new ideas. We remake essential city services and infrastructure using advanced technology, and then expand these solutions to other cities. With our partners, we are diverting rainwater from overloaded sewer systems, easing subway congestion during large events, and launching a digital directory of public health services in Chicago.