When Cubs fans leave Wrigley Field starting Tuesday night, they may encounter a simple console with two circular buttons: one a red, angry face, the other a green, smiley face. The sensor will have a question attached asking fans about their experience at the ballpark and whether they would recommend a Wrigley visit to their family and friends.
But it won’t be Cubs executives on the other end monitoring the responses. Rather, each push of a button will be recorded and registered on the computers of Lane Tech High School students.
The customer experience sensors are among three types of equipment the Lane Tech students designed, created, then set up at Wrigley Field as part of the Lane of Things program, a curriculum that teaches students about embedded sensor technology, digital fabrication, design and problem solving, data analytics and teamwork.
Crouching on the concourse at the ballpark on Monday, the Lane Tech students tugged at wires and tested connections of a collection of weather sensors scattered in front of them. A few feet away, another group huddled around laptops, checking lines of code. And near the entrance to Gate D, more students tested the buttons on one of the contraptions that will collect fan feedback.
All the sensors will collect data during the Cubs’ upcoming five-game home stand against the Cleveland Indians and the San Francisco Giants. The other sensors will measure weather, primarily in the upper deck, and the sound emanating from the ballpark. The information accumulated at the ballpark will be transmitted to the students, who will gather and analyze the results for a presentation at Wrigley next week.
After working on projects in and around the school during the first two years of the program, Lane of Things expanded to partner with the Cubs. Wrigley Field, with all of its activity, even on off days, offers an ideal measuring station for the student experiments. The project is funded by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.
“It takes something we have learned in the classroom throughout the year and allows us to take a business approach to it,” said senior Ifra Rabbani. “The Cubs are such a large part of Chicago and having even such a small part in that, and being able to work at Wrigley Field, is very exciting for us.”
The high school program is adapted from the Array of Things sensor platform, a collaboration between the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and the School of the Art institute of Chicago. Array of Things, funded by the National Science Foundation, recently installed 100 sensor nodes across the city, measuring factors ranging from air quality to traffic congestion to sound and vibration at every data point.
“Understanding how 45,000 people interface with Wrigley Field is very similar to how millions of people interface with a city,” said Satya Basu, an instructor with Array of Things who was at the ballpark to help the students. “It’s just a matter of scale.”
The 100 teens who set up the sensors are students in Lane Tech’s Innovation and Creation Lab and Physical Computing Lab classes. The project is a way for students to design a project with practical implications. Students also gain experience working with a client — in this case, the Cubs — and creating an apparatus and program that will meet their needs.
“When you work with the Cubs, there’s a realness to it,” said Jeff Solin, a computer science teacher at Lane Tech who helped connect the school with Array of Things.
The sensors will provide the students and the Cubs with a set of micro data that can be sorted by gate and time, providing real-time nuanced feedback. In the future, such technology could be used by the team the measure fan satisfaction at other specific locations, such at the bathroom or concession lines. The Lane Tech sensors will be set up at spots where they will be monitored by stadium personnel.
The sensors can start to help the Cubs understand how fans interact with specific spaces and cater those areas to fans’ needs, Basu said.
The sound sensors will be set up at two nearby parking lots, atop the Hotel Zachary and at the Cubs’ old office building north of the park. The Cubs wanted sensors that measured sound levels outside the park in an effort to better understand how Wrigley affects the surrounding neighborhood.
“The goal of this is to show them a map of what sound is where,” said junior Maxwell Krolak, who was tapping away at a laptop in the basement cafeteria of the Cubs’ office building as the students prepared to set up the devices.
The weather sensors, which have a wind vane and anemometer, will be mounted on the support pillars of the upper deck, where they will measure temperature, humidity, light level and atmospheric pressure. Three other sensors will be set up in the ballpark concourse as control stations. One of the goals of the weather project is to compare conditions in the upper deck, which is much more susceptible to the elements, especially gusty winds, than other parts of the ballpark.
The sound sensors will help the Cubs learn how sound escapes from the ballpark, what areas get the most noise and at what times.
“This is really a pioneering thing for us,” said Heather Way-Kitzes, the team’s manager of government and neighborhood relations, who helped link the school and the ballclub with the urging of a Lane Tech parent. “We hope it goes well.”