Mobile tech can map human activity

Researchers study mobile usage to examine urban environments

At a recent IT symposium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one area of study discussed was digitally augmented urban environments.

Carlo Ratti, director of the school's SENSEable City Laboratory, says the lab is examining "the interface between people and mobile technology and cities. Wireless changes the way people live and work."

Researchers in the group have been using MIT's urban area in Cambridge., Mass., as a living lab. The campus achieved 100 percent Wi-Fi coverage in late 2005 and now has 3,000 access points. The staff monitors 104 buildings.

Once the infrastructure was in place Ratti's group started to log and analyse traffic patterns, generating heat maps and graphics of usage statistics that provided a real-time picture of what the MIT population was up to at any given moment.

Researchers followed up with the release of iFind, downloadable PC client code that, through triangulation, provides information about a user's location. Users decide when they want to be visible and to whom, and then can find friends and colleagues at a glance. About 1,500 of the 20,000 people on campus have downloaded iFind.

These humble first steps led to grander experiments overseas. The lab, for example, teamed with Google and Telecom Italia in Rome to see how much real-time information they could collect about city activity by monitoring cell-phone traffic patterns and taxi and bus movements.

Information superimposed on aerial photos showed cell activity as a red fog -- the deeper the colour, the more intense the traffic -- while buses and taxis were yellow trails. The cell traffic showed the city waking up; at rush hour the main thoroughfares showed high-density cell traffic -- and then just the opposite as those folks dispersed into the city.

You could see where the city was pulsating and people movement and flows, Ratti says. That kind of information can be important in planning everything from how to accommodate major events, such as a soccer match, to planning emergency evacuation routes. It also reveals such useful things as where cell handoffs are happening and where infrastructure might be insufficient.

Next up, the lab is trying to determine how a city can work as a real-time system. "Cities are not easy to change other than control traffic lights or reconfigure road lanes," Ratti says. "But people change behavior based on what's going on. You can influence them."

"Cities of tomorrow will be made of concrete and silicon, and will make that possible, but "we don't know how to do that yet," he adds.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Dix

Network World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?