Researchers at MIT may not be ableto hear your cellphone call, but they have found a way to see it. Theymapped a city in real time by tracking tens of thousands of peopletraveling about carrying cellphones.
Using anonymous cellphonedata provided by the leading cellphone operator in Austria,A1/Mobilkom, the researchers developed the Mobile Landscapes project,creating electronic maps of cellphone use in the metropolitan area ofGraz, Austria, the country's second-largest city.
The researchersused three types of data -- density of cellphone calls, origins anddestinations of the calls, and position of users tracked at regularintervals -- to create computer-generated images that can be overlayedwith one another and with geographic and street maps of a city to showthe peaks and valleys of the landscape as well as peaks in cellphoneuse.
"For the first time ever we are able to visualize the fulldynamics of a city in real time," said project leader Carlo Ratti, anarchitect/engineer and head of the SENSEable City Laboratory at theMassachusetts Institute of Technology. "This opens up new possibilitiesfor urban studies and planning. The real-time city is now real: asystem that is able to continuously sense its condition and can quicklyreact to its criticalities," he added.
In recent years,techniques to locate and track mobile devices have become increasinglyavailable; such techniques were crucial to law enforcement officials intheir investigation of the Madrid and London terrorist bombings. MIT'sMobile Landscapes project takes advantage of these techniques at anunprecedented scale by mapping an entire urban region continually atregular intervals.
The continuously changing electronic maps,which have a surprising aesthetic appeal, will be displayed at theM-City Exhibition at the Kunsthaus Graz from Oct. 1 to Jan. 8. Visitorsto the show will be invited to participate in the electronic trackingby sending text messages to a server. "This participatory act aims toengage them in the issues of social networks and distributedinteraction, but also on the possible drawbacks of limited privacy andgeographical surveillance," Ratti said.
The research could alsohave implications for use in large-scale emergencies and fortransportation engineers seeking ways to better manage freeway traffic.
Inaddition to Ratti, designers on the project include MIT graduatestudents Daniel Berry, Sonya Huang, Xiongjiu Liao, Andrea Mattiello,Eugenio Morello and Andres Sevtsuk, and sophomore Daniel Gutierrez,senior David Lee and junior Jia Lou. The exhibition is funded byA1/Mobilkom, which provided data and technical assistance to MIT'sSENSEable City Laboratory.
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