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MIT Project Maps Wireless Usage In Rome

A real-time map of Rome or any city can help people avoid traffic congestion, as well as evacuate more efficiently if disaster strikes.
MANHASSET, NY — Massachusetts Institute of Technology's SENSEable City Laboratory will launch the SENSEable City Consortium, a major research initiative aimed at bringing together city and public administrators, network operators, electronic hardware and software producers and urban hardware manufacturers in MIT's research environment.

The consortium will be launched on the heels of an exhibit of the Laboratory's Real Time Rome at the Venice Biennale, a biannual exhibition of contemporary art and design (Sept. 10 to Nov. 20). The SENSEable Laboratory studies the impact of new technologies on cities.

The Real Time Rome project utilizes data gathered, in real time from cell phones and other wireless technologies, to better understand the patterns of daily life in Rome. As a result a clear illustration emerges of what ubiquitous connectivity in an urban environment looks like.

"The goal of Real Time Rome is to use this connectivity to map the city in real time, which may ultimately lead to a deeper understanding of how modern cities function," said project director Carlo Ratti, director of the SENSEable City Lab. "Imagine being able to avoid traffic congestion, or knowing where people are congregating on a Saturday afternoon. In a worst-case scenario, such real time systems could also make it easier to evacuate a city in case of emergency."

Ratti's team obtains its data anonymously from cell phones, GPS devices on buses and taxis, and other wireless mobile devices, using advanced algorithms developed by Telecom Italia, the principal sponsor of the project. These algorithms are able to discern a mobile phone signal from a user who is stuck in traffic and one that is sitting in the pocket of a pedestrian wandering down the street.

Ratti describes Real Time Rome as a new kind of mapmaking. Along with other powerful interactive maps, such as Google Earth, Real Time Rome is backed up by huge databases that will ultimately make it possible to conduct highly customized searches and view displays in real time.