Wifi Tracking to Make Cities Smarter

A PhD student at Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland has proposed a new method to track pedestrian’s pathways — by using their wifi connections. For his thesis, mobility researcher Antonin Danalet, has created a map that tracks students using the WiFi access points at his University to determine pedestrian patterns. He then took this data and laid it on to a map of the University combining it with additional data such as class schedules of students. Danalet was able to see where the students and faculty bought lunch, what areas were most frequented at each time of day and other shopping patterns. The perk of utilizing the wifi data is that it can reveal some interesting patterns of use.

“For example, by studying where students chose to eat, Danalet learned that the type of food wasn’t as big of an influence on choice as the price of the food, the restaurant’s proximity to the student, and the size of the restaurant. (The thinking: The larger the space, the faster the lines will move.)”

This method of data collection is easy to implement with our current infrastructure and very cheap. If this data collection method were applied to larger networks it could yield extremely valuable information that could help dictate city planning. By understanding our moves and motivations within the city, planners and city officials could better design the urban space for the public. Understanding this data could lead to a multitude of improvements in cities such as pedestrian traffic in parks could allow better placement for trash receptacles or help understand why certain bus routes are more effective than others.

With public/private projects such as LinkNYC and the free wifi in the subways, this data sourcing could be really valuable and more relevant than ever. The data is there waiting to be analyzed, through the analysis we can hopefully understand the stories of our cities.