Our “telco” take on Uber Movement

AI of Things    11 January, 2017
This week Uber excited transport planners around the world sharing the news of the launch of their Uber Movement product. Often dubbed as the world’s leading “taxi” company, Uber has revolutionized personal transport in many cities around the world with their first-class interface and their customer-centric, peer-to-peer approach – valued at approximately $66bn in 2016.
Uber Movement will provide open access to anonymized data from over 2 billion trips to help improve urban planning all over the world, engaging not only city officials and transport planners but also the general public. These datasets will allow individuals to explore and discover mobility patterns from hundreds of thousands of Uber vehicles in 66 countries around the world.

Here at LUCA, we were very excited to see the news as we are also passionate about making cities smarter and more efficient by using Big Data – something which we started to do 4 years ago when we launched our Smart Steps product, providing groundbreaking transport insights to bodies such as Highways England, the DGT and a wide range of city councils across Europe and Latin America. We also recently expanded our technology to China, working alongside China Unicom to roll out our insights platform outside of Telefónica’s footprint.

Ingesting billions of mobile networks events everyday, we’ve learnt a great deal about the immense value of having a consistently large and diverse sample size and we’ve also refined our anonymization, aggregation and extrapolation methodology alongside sector experts such as Jacobs and AECOM to ensure we’re providing robust and actionable insights which can reshape the way transport is optimized all over the world –  and we’re proud to have done that in supercities such as London and São Paulo where the sheer size and population density makes modelling and planning a unique challenge.

Our Smart Steps product lead, Timothy McHugh said: “We’re particularly curious to see how the Uber Movement product works. As experts in population movement understanding and overcoming challenges such as bias and spatial accuracy have been key to delivering world class output, something we’ve always been eager to be transparent about with our partners and clients.”

We also think it will interesting to see how they take on the sample bias, given that, for example, almost three quarters of their user base in the US is between the age of 16 and 34. Equally, many countries aren’t just facing an urban traffic problem, and therefore need to understand the way people move between different cities to plan infrastructure and public transport more efficiently at higher level.

Furthermore, the question around “when” data is captured is also fundamental in understanding how Uber’s new product can be applied in modelling. Fortunately with mobile data, the network never sleeps and we are able to analyze datasets created 365 days per year, 24/7 – unlike GPS based apps which we all tend to use more sporadically. We have explored the use of such GPS data alongside Smart Steps and there is definitely room for the two data types to compliment each other in transport planning projects in the future.

Overall, it’s clear that Big Data, and indeed Open Data, are going to disrupt the way cities are managed and therefore optimized in the future.  We strongly believe that combining multiple data sources and validating new innovative data sources is crucial in enabling the public sector to make meaningful progress on the Sustainable Development Goals 11 and 13 (Sustainable Cities and Communities and Climate Action).

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As private sector companies, it’s important that we work closely with the public sector (in a sustainable way) to give back the value of data to society. We’re keen to see how Uber Movement insights could compliment our Smart Steps data in the future – “finding smarter ways forwards” together as their slogan suggests.

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