MIT Real Time Rome project to debut at Venice Biennale

By : |September 7, 2006 0

CAMBRIDGE, MA: Real Time Rome, a pioneering MIT project that promises to usher in a new era of urban mapmaking, will have its worldwide debut at the Venice Biennale, the prestigious biannual exhibition of contemporary art and design that runs from Sept. 10 to Nov. 20.

The project utilizes data gathered, in real time and at an unprecedented scale, from cell phones and other wireless technologies, to better understand the patterns of daily life in Rome, and to illustrate what ubiquitous connectivity in an urban environment looks like.

"In today’s world, wireless mobile communications devices are creating new dimensions of interconnectedness between people, places and urban infrastructures," said project director Carlo Ratti, director of the SENSEable City Lab at MIT. "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."

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 the difference between, say, 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. Data are made anonymous and aggregated from the beginning, so there are no implications for individual privacy.

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.

"We are very excited to carry out our experiment in Rome, the city where Gianbattista Nolli refined modern cartography in 1748," Ratti said. "Maps of the future will be large databases that will enable us to extract fragments that suit our needs, much like we can do today on the web, and will also tap into the coming revolution in RFID (radio frequency identification) technology."

Real Time Rome is produced by MIT’s SENSEable City Laboratory, an initiative that studies the impact of new technologies on cities.

For more information, visit senseable.mit.edu/realtimerome/.

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