Mobile Future

MIT Brings the Power of Mobile to Life

On January 20th, millions gathered on the National Mall to witness Barack Obama’s Inauguration as the 44th President of the United States. We knew the day’s crowd of approximately 2 million was diverse. Now – thanks to mobile calling information – we know just how far many traveled to participate in this historic event.

MIT’s SENSEable City Lab tracked cell phone activity in DC and illuminated the results with the following visualization. More than half the world’s nations – over 138 countries – were represented in Washington. The biggest international callers were from Canada, Great Britain, France, and Puerto Rico; California, Florida, New York, Texas and Georgia topped the list of domestic callers.

By tracking mobile calling activity, MIT has moved beyond simply showing who attended the Inauguration. Now we also know how attendees behaved. According to the results, during the morning of the Inauguration, call activity was two to three times larger than normal levels as the crowd anticipated Obama’s oath. Activity dropped as the crowd listened to the new President’s inaugural address. Following the speech, calls exceeded five times the normal levels.

Clearly, people were celebrating the moment and eager to share the experience with friends and family. We could assume that. With cell phone activity data, MIT proves it.

This is exciting stuff. MIT’s work confirms that, by using cell phone calling information, we can better understand how a city performs during a special event — and perhaps even an unexpected emergency. According to MIT’s report, "Until today it has been difficult to monitor urban dynamics in real time…Mobile phone networks, which we consider to be a nervous system for the city, has the potential to provide useful and rich information and services to citizens."

Just imagine what else cell phone data can tell us…