Santiago Iñiguez, Dean and Professor of Strategy

I would like to mention an article of The Economist that I read last month. It refers to a project currently being implemented by the Town Hall of Rome along with MIT and Telecom Italia, and involves the collection of anonymous data from mobile-phone networks to create image maps that show how people are moving around. Real Time Rome, as the project is called, would allow ambulances and fire engines reach their destinations a lot more quickly with the increased traffic knowledge it provides, as well as many other advantages particularly useful for municipal governments and would have many business applications

In the past such information “was collected via traffic helicopters, roadside cameras, police patrols, sensors embedded in roads, tracking units in vehicles, data from public-transport turnstiles and surveys. But the resulting picture is often inadequate, expensive—or both.” Rome´s transport authority says the new system will allow them to scrap an annual survey that costs 60 euros for each of the 2,000 respondents.

If you prefer hearing about the project in audio then here is a BBC audio intervew of Carlo Ratti, the director of MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory that is the inspiration for the project.

RealtimeromeAccording to an architecture adviser to the Mayor of London and the director of last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, at which MIT displayed a prototype real-time map of Rome (see picture) “London is preparing for a projected additional 1m inhabitants in the next 15 years, and people-movement maps “will be invaluable” in planning housing and transport. Politicians will take to the technology because it can provide solid statistical backing for politically unpopular planning decisions.”

According to officials in the town hall in Rome, urban planning will be greatly enhanced including expansion of their metro system, reallocation of their 2100 buses (bus timetables could take account of hourly or daily variations) and better placing of traffic lights etc. Furthermore, a better evaluation of commercial property could be made, based on the frequency of passers by.

It is also forseeable that national tourist agencies could better plan their foreign marketing campaigns knowing just how many from each nationality (identified from their mobile-phone network) spend most most of their time in town or how many prefer the beach etc. In Rome marketing departments might soon have the possibility to know the exact concentration of people who pass their advertising banners, or in what street they should open their shop knowing just how many will pass by.

“We already have many cities onboard, including Florence and Rome in Italy, and Zaragoza in Spain,” said the previously mentioned Carlo in an interview with CNET News.com.” Furthermore, Mobilkom Austria, is working with MIT to create movement-maps in the city of Graz.

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