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Cambridge's Fleet of Smart Garbage Trucks Is Here to Sniff Out Problems

A collaboration between the city and MIT’s Senseable City Lab, these sensor-equipped vehicles can detect gas leaks, potholes, and other urban hurdles across their paths.
From their perch on roving vehicles, these sensors can detect gas leaks, air pollution, traffic, and other issues in the urban environment.
From their perch on roving vehicles, these sensors can detect gas leaks, air pollution, traffic, and other issues in the urban environment.Courtesy of Senseable City Lab

Many smart cities collect data via fixed monitoring stations that only measure certain areas and can’t be relied upon to keep an eye on fluctuations across an entire city, or even across different sides of the street. But what if infrastructure often dismissed as a congestion-causing nuisance could help create a more nuanced data picture?

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, clunky garbage trucks are already buzzing with all sorts of sensors. Cambridge, in partnership with MIT’s Senseable City Lab, launched a program earlier this year called City Scanner that uses the city’s garbage trucks as roving information gatherers measuring variables including air pollution, infrastructure decay, and traffic.