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Using Cellphone Big Data to Track and Ease City Travel

MIT/Ford Researchers Try to Create a Better System


Boston traffic

MIT and Ford Motor Company researchers show city planners how they may transform transportation schemes by using cellphone location data to see how people and vehicles actually move around in urban areas.

[Watch the MIT Mobility video.]

MIT reported recently that researchers using six weeks of data from the Boston area were able “to quickly assemble the kind of model of urban mobility patterns that typically takes years to build.”

This breakthrough could lead to greater efficiency in city resource allocation and infrastructure development, and end using pricey, labor intensive and slow-to-publish urban transportation surveys.


Marta González, an MIT associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, is the senior author of the mobility research paper:  The TimeGeo Modeling Framework for Urban Motility Without Travel Surveys. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was the study’s publisher.

She also leads the MIT Mobility and Networks Lab. It developed  the mobility project in partnership with the Ford Motor Palo Alto Research and Innovation Center.

Note: More on each team’s member, and leadership, is below.

By collecting cellphone data, the researchers can analyze mobility data from people but does not need to ask them directly about their travel choices. González says this process creates “the comparative advantage of making urban transportation planning faster and smarter and even allows directly communicating recommendations to device users.”

González, a native of Venezuela, received her PhD in Physics from Stuttgart Univarsität, a Magister Sc. in Physics from the Central University of Venezuela, and earned her Licentiate in Physics at the Universidad Simon Bolivar

Other members of the MIT Mobility and Networks Lab



Shan Jiang, a co-author of the mobility data paper, is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Human Mobility and Networks Lab, in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

She received her PhD in Urban and Regional Planning in the Urban Information Systems Group in Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT. Her MS in City Planning and MS in Transportation are from MIT.

Her undergraduate degrees are from different departments at Peking University, Beijing, China. Her Bachelor of Engineering in Urban Planning is from the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences and a BA in Economics is from the China Center for Economic Research.

Visiting Student

8.31.Traffic.luisLuis Eduardo Olmos is a Visiting Student at MIT and a PhD Candidate in Physics at the National University of Colombia. He has written, or co-authored, papers on traffic flow.

Visiting Scholar

 8.31.Traffic.Merkebe_DemissieMerkebe Getachew Demissie is a post-doctoral student and Researcher at Portugal’s University of Coimbra, where he also received his PhD.

His 2014 doctoral thesis was in sync with the research the MIT Mobility and Networks Lab is doing. The researcher, born in Ethiopia, wrote about Combining of Datasets from Multiple Sources for Urban and Transportation Planningemphasis on cellular network data.

Demissie earned his MS in Transportation Systems at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and his undergraduate degree in Textile Engineering at Bahir Dar University, in Baher Dar, Ethiopia.

He has published a variety of articles on transportation matters.

Ford Motor Palo Alto Research and Innovation Center Team

8.31.Traffic.ken-washington.img.1471974935829Ken Washington is the Vice President of Research at the Ford Motor Palo Alto Research and Innovation Center. He is leader of Ford’s global research organization, and responsible for the development and implementation of the company’s technology strategy and plans.

Previously, he was vice president of the Space Technology Advanced Research and Development Laboratories at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, and the company’s first chief privacy officer.

Washington received his BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Nuclear Engineering from Texas A&M University and is a fellow of the MIT Seminar XXI program on International Relations.

Tags at MIT: ResearchSchool of Engineering Big data Data cambridge Cambridge, Boston and region Civil and environmental engineering Computer science and technology Mobile devices Transportation Urban studies and planning

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