Big Data and Transportation at Ohio State

By Matthew McGreevy

Smart Phones and big data assist GIS scholars in analyzing the flow of transportation and movement on campus

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Geographic Information Science scholars are using the pinging of smart phones off cellular towerHybridBus_July2011-1020W_1s to gather data related to identifying and charting traffic and pedestrian patterns in real-time across the Ohio State University campus.

Harvey Miller, the Bob and Mary Reusche chair in GIS in the OSU Department of Geography, said the data allows researchers to ask different questions about transportation. For example, data can show what type of people use the campus bus service at a given time or what time is most efficient for a delivery truck to do its business at the university.

“I can now think of cities as a collection of individuals moving, not just a big amorphous blob with waves of people moving through it,” said Miller. “I want to know how we can build transportation systems in cities such that we can create sustainable development and livable communities.”

Using GPS or smart phones to relay information about a population is not a unique idea, and this type of data gathering is becoming commonplace with the creation of Smart Cities.

In Smart Cities, sensors embedded in the city’s infrastructure send an array of information about a population’s activity to a large inter-connected network. This network stores the data for officials who can interpret the information and devise more environmentally-friendly and practical solutions to urban problems.

Such problems on the Ohio State campus include a high influx of delivery trucks jamming limited roadways, especially in this age of online commerce and rapid delivery, said Morton O’Kelly, director of Ohio State’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis. “Using technology for helping to move packages or freight, I’d say is very important,” said O’Kelly. “It helps to get packages there in a very efficient way.”

O’Kelly acknowledged the Campus Area Bus Service’s recent implementation of GPS software as another facet of the smart data revolution. “We have become very used to things like that working without realizing that underneath is an efficient computation underpinning things that allow us to have a smooth operating transportation system,” said O’Kelly.

Miller said these are just preliminary steps in Ohio State’s path to becoming a Smart City, but that path is far from certain. “The technology is there; the data is there,” Miller said. “The hard part is getting it all together and getting a commitment from the university.”

“It’s all there; it just takes the right catalyst.”