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IBM uses cell phone data to redraw African bus routes

Posting in Cities

To build a better urban transportation system you need to know how people move throughout a city.

And what better way to track that data than with cell phones.

IBM researchers studied about 500,000 call records in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's largest city, to draw better bus routes, Technology Review reports. The study was for the Data for Development competition in which telecom company Orange released 2.5 billion call records from five million cell phone users in Ivory Coast.

The cell phone data isn't as accurate as getting GPS data, but it provides enough information to study large transportation systems. After analyzing the data, IBM came to the conclusion that the city needed to add two routes and extend another, reducing travel times by 10 percent in the city.

But that's not all you can do with cell phone data, as BBC reports:

"If we could have merged the telco data with city data, such as the bus timetables we could have the potential to completely change the existing network," he said.

Access to such data could play a crucial role in new infrastructure projects such as designing city-wide bike-sharing schemes or charging stations for electric vehicles.

And with so much of the world using cell phones, including the developing world, Abidjan isn't the only city that will be able to benefit from this data to create a better transportation system.

[Via Technology Review, BBC]

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

— By on April 30, 2013, 11:36 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure