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IBM Optimizes Ivory Coast Bus Routes by Mining Mobile Phone Data

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, May 1 2013

Abidjan, Ivory Coast (credit: Flickr/SoCE)

Cell phone data might be the next indispensable resource for urban planners. Mining mobility data from 2.5 billion call records, a team of IBM researchers identified modifications to bus routes in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, which could slash travel time up to 10 percent.

The research was carried out as part of the French telecom Orange open data challenge Data for Development. Participating researchers gained access to 2.5 billion call and text message records exchanged between 5 million anonymous users. The resulting projects will be presented at a three-day conference at MIT, which begins today and goes until May 3.

The IBM team focused on mobility traces in Abidjan, whose transit system is made up of 539 large buses, 5,000 mini-buses and 11,000 shared taxis. This narrowed their data set to approximately 500,000 phones with relevant data. By tracking the location of the cell phone users as the phone registers at different towers, the mobility of users can be traced.

This is not entirely new territory for IBM. As part of the First-of-a-Kind Program, IMB has conducted similar research in partnership with Vodafone in Istanbul, Turkey, and on a much smaller scale in Dubuque, Iowa. The project, Insights in Motion, drew on transit data, geo-spacial information, census records and points-of-interest information as well as data from cell phones and smartphones. This results in a "digital tapestry of human transit movement."

Milind Naphade, the leader of Insights in Motion, said, "One thing I think about is how we have become slaves of the infrastructure rather than having the infrastructure work for us . . . Cities should help people live their lives, not get in the way."

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