Aleks Magnusson, Pexels

Mobile big data has great potential for human mobility research and spatial planning

From June 11 to 14, the international conference and doctoral school Mobile Tartu 2024 will take place in Tartu. The conference will discuss how to best utilise the possibilities of big data collected during daily mobility for planning public spaces and transport systems and addressing crisis situations. The conference's keynote speeches and panel discussions will be accessible online to all interested parties. 

In everyday life, we rely on location-based services ranging from weather forecasts to cultural event recommendations in social media, leaving behind a digital footprint. The availability of human mobility and location data and the ability to process it is crucial for making smart decisions in crisis management, spatial and transportation planning, and education and tourism management. This requires both expertise and a transparent and secure infrastructure through which location data is collected, processed, and analysed, and the resulting statistics and generalisations are made available to society. 

According to Age Poom, the main organiser of the conference and Associate Professor of Urban Environment at the University of Tartu, the key to valorising mobility data lies in data accessibility, cross-sectoral cooperation, and the expertise of specialists. “Estonia was the first country in the world to use mobile positioning data for planning public services, producing statistics, and conducting scientific research. However, using mobile data in Estonia has stalled due to legal uncertainties. In contrast, mobile positioning data is increasingly used in daily decision-making and scientific research in several other European countries and globally. We know that making smart decisions requires good data on the dynamics of people's mobility and presence. The conference is a great opportunity to get an overview of big data-based studies and developments in this field worldwide and to meet top scientists in the field," said Poom. 

The conference will feature live broadcasts of four keynote speakers and panel discussions. Professor Jukka Krisp, a Visiting Professor at the University of Tartu and a professor at Augsburg University, will explore critical research directions necessary for offering location-based services like navigation in the Rein Ahas lecture series. Professor Nico Van de Weghe from Ghent University will explore the possibilities for applying generative artificial intelligence in human mobility research. Associate Professor Anu Masso from Tallinn University of Technology will speak about the datafication of society, data justice, and related research ethics. Dr Robin Lovelace from the University of Leeds and the UK government agency Active Travel England will focus on applying open science principles in transport planning. 

The Mobile Tartu conference was founded in 2008 by the late Rein Ahas, a Professor of Human Geography, who started mobile positioning-based mobility research at the University of Tartu at the beginning of this century. The conference has formed a strong international network of mobility researchers, who gather in Tartu every second year.  

The conference and the parallel PhD School are organised by the Mobility Lab, University of Tartu, in collaboration with the Technical University of Munich, Aalto University and Tallinn University of Technology. The Network on European Communications and Transport Activities Research (NECTAR) is involved in organising paper sessions. The conference is supported by the EIT Urban Mobility co-funded by the EU, Tartu City Government, the Faculty of Science and Technology, and the Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences at the University of Tartu. 

The schedule for live broadcasts:  

  • 12 June at 4:00–5:30 PM – conference opening and Rein Ahas Lecture by Prof Jukka Krisp (Augsburg University, Visiting Professor at the University of Tartu) 
  • 13 June at 9:00–10:00 AM – keynote speech by Prof Nico Van de Weghe (Ghent University) 
  • 13 June at 4:30–6:00 PM – keynote speech by Assoc Prof Anu Masso (Tallinn Technical University) and a panel discussion on AI in mobility research  
  • 14 June at 10:00–11:00 AM – keynote speech by Dr Robin Lovelace (University of Leeds/Active Travel England) 
  • 14 June at 2:40–4:00 PM – panel discussion on understanding accessibility and socio-spatial disparities with mobile big data and conference closing 

The conference programme can be found at 

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