Why cities?

Sustainable and resilient urbanization will become one of humanity’s grand challenges as the world’s urban population grows from about half of all people today to about two-thirds of all people by 2050. As we rise to meet this challenge, we have the opportunity to mitigate climate impact, build more equitable social and physical systems, and engage more people and communities economically.

Designing for this urban future requires a multidisciplinary approach as the challenges we face are uncertain and will continue to grow in complexity. This will demand new collaborative models that cross fields, industries, and cities, and embrace holistic processes that engage communities in the development and deployment of urban technology. (Read more about why cities)

About Urban Innovation

Researchers working in Urban Innovation study and build technology to help shape the future of urban environments. Expertise in design, hardware and software prototyping and deployment, electrical engineering, biology, chemistry and social and data science, is combined to target three application areas: climate change and related environmental effects on society; productivity and the economic health of cities; social equity and the health of people and their communities.

Environment: Car travel, air conditioning, and many other aspects of daily modern urban life, contribute to climate change. At the Urban Innovation Initiative, we strive to better measure, understand, and mitigate the impact of urban life on the environment. With Project Eclipse (opens in new tab) we are developing, deploying, and analyzing low cost environmental sensors for cities. We have also partnered with Azure to produce daily urban heat island indices (opens in new tab) for all major U.S. cities.

Economy: A productive city is one in which all citizens are engaged economically. To help understand our rapidly changing employment landscape, we use unique large-scale datasets to characterize and compare regional differences in jobs and skill development (see interactive maps of job searches by sector: United States (opens in new tab), Canada (opens in new tab)).

Community: Cities should be safe, healthy, and inclusive. We are being proactive and engaging with community groups early in the process so that local needs and concerns can be addressed. We are building tools and experiences that connect residents to hyperlocal data about their neighborhoods.

Project spotlight

Project Eclipse provides a sensing, analytics, and experiences platform for hyperlocal urban environmental sensing. With an initial focus on air quality, Eclipse is being used to measure air quality at neighborhood scale in Chicago and other cities. Data collected from custom-built solar-powered sensing hardware drives data dashboards and analytics as well as novel experiences for residents. Learn more about the research.

Urban Innovation
A) Hardware B) Assembly C) Calibration D) Installation E) Deployment and Engagement

EcoPod: Bridging science to community

EcoPod (opens in new tab) is a temporary pop-up lab experience designed to engage communities with local environmental data and expertise for climate resilience. The concept was birthed from Microsoft Research’s Urban Futures Workshop (opens in new tab) in 2020. The result was a whitepaper (opens in new tab) that explored the idea of a pop-up lab to bridge the gap between data and communities. Urban Innovation (opens in new tab) collaborated with Azure IOT (opens in new tab)WZMH Architects (opens in new tab), and Nassal (opens in new tab) to retrofit a small portable trailer to serve as a destination for neighborhood residents to directly learn about their air quality.

The EcoPod debuted in Chicago on April 23, 2022, for EarthDay Weekend.

EcoPod: A Pop-Up Lab experience to bridge science and communities together

Urban Futures Workshop

The Microsoft Urban Futures Summer Workshop (July 28–30, 2020) was three intensive days of talks, discussion and planning for data driven urban transformation. With over 100 attendees, we built a research driven coalition of civic, academic and research leaders to envision what services could be built on top of data sets for improving the future of cities. Together we produced a series of white papers that present research and action plans for cities, academia, and industry, to conduct real world research and deployments.

Research publications

Urban Innovation makes its research available through scholarly publication, through open source software and datasets, and through collaborations with universities, and with business and product teams at Microsoft. (Browse publications)