Case Study

Smart Cities Tech

Chicago: “Smart Cities” Pioneer Cloud-Based Stormwater Monitoring


The University of Illinois Labs City Digital project deploys multiple sensors to help monitor and manage stormwater flow.

In Chicago, City Digital successfully deployed new cloud-based technology that combines sensors and real-time analytics to evaluate the performance of sustainable stormwater management techniques.


Climate: Humid continental with all four seasons distinctly represented


32% black
45.3% white (31.7% non-Hispanic)
5% Asian
3% from two or more races.

How do you know if green infrastructure is working? It’s a challenge: the technology is new, it’s meant to be spread out over many small installations, and it combines a lot of functions into one installation, like retaining water, filtering it, and diverting it into surrounding soil.

That’s the aim of Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring, the latest project to emerge from University of Illinois Labs on Goose Island. UIL leads the Digital City project — a collaborative of academics, practitioners and companies aimed at creating innovative systems that can make cities “smarter.” Their team has created and linked a system of sensors that combines weather information with surface and groundwater monitoring to determine how much water is present, whether or not it’s entering the green infrastructure, and what’s happening to the water when it gets there.

Concrete and pipe systems are easier to monitor because you track large, civil engineering projects at just a few sites.  Green infrastructure presents a different, and more complex challenge.

“Instead of having a million-gallon tank, you may have several-thousand-gallon bio-retention cells to store and treat this water. And those assets are much harder to track.”

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.

  • Multiple partners bring full range of expertise needed to create comprehensive city-wide system
  • Integrated with existing stormwater collection systems
  • City Digital initiative creates first accurate way to measure effectiveness of green infrastructure
  • Designed to enable performance-based management and better capital planning for infrastructure assessments



  • UI Labs City Digital
  • Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology
  • Chicago Department of Transportation
  • Chicago Department of Water Management
  • Microsoft
  • Opti
  • Senformatics
  • West Monroe Partners
  • Glasswater Technology
Lessons Learned
  • Collaboration among different disciplines critical
  • Technology is available
  • Cloud platforms can enable collection and analysis of decentralized data sources to drive new insights into program design and innovation
  • Provides real-time, actionable data when fully deployed across multiple sites
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