19 July 2006

Real Time Rome: MIT reveals Rome’s live traffic info via mobile phones

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Real Time Rome
In a two-page article, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports on “Real Time Rome“, a project by Carlo Ratti, director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab that “uses aggregated data from cell phones, buses and taxis in Rome to better understand urban dynamics in real time. By revealing the pulse of the city, the project aims to show how technology can help individuals make more informed decisions about their environment [in the hope that] it [will] be possible to reduce the inefficiencies of present day urban systems and open the way to a more sustainable urban future.” [Text from project website]

[The text below is from La Repubblica, freely translated by the author of this blog]

“In large cities millions of mobile phones constantly communicate their exact location to the mobile operators. Nothing surprising: these phones function precisely because companies like Tim, Vodafone, Wind and H3G can locate them at any moment and provide them with a clear signal. MIT will use the mobile phone location data from Rome that it obtains from Telecom Italia (obviously under anonymous aggregation), to proces them in its computers in Boston, and to return them to Rome in a map that shows the movements of the inhabitants of the city.”

“The results of this processing, which involves the use of complex algorithms (that for instance can figure out the difference between a very slow mobile phone located in the pocket of a pedestrian from one of a driver stuck in traffic) will arrive nearly instantaneously, so that the city will have real time updates on its traffic situation.”

“With the availability of such a tool, people cannot only choose the least busy street to go to a restaurant, but also the least busy restaurant itself. By analysing the location of mobile phones with a particular country code, it is even possible to analyse the flows of tourists: where are the Germans going? How are the Japanese getting around? By combining the traffic data with those of public transportation, one can immediately understand if the bus distribution in a city corresponds to user density, therefore user needs. People can use their mobile phone at any moment to check the presence of the closest taxi and call it, or they can find out where they can find the nearest (and next) available parking space.”

“The “Real-time-Rome” will be presented in September at the Biennale of Venice 10th International Architecture Exhibition.” […]

“The project also involves Google, (the Rome public transport company) ATAC, Samarcanda Taxi and the City of Rome, which will provide mega screens during the testing phase so that Romans can follow their own movements throughout the city.”

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