Urenio Watch Watch: Digital Cities / Cyber Cities

Wireless Technology is Changing Life on the MIT

New wireless communications technologies are changing the way we live and work. This fact is particularly evident at MIT, thanks to the presence of two conditions: 1) the very high percentage of laptop computer ownership on campus; and 2) the existence of one of the most pervasive wireless Internet networks on earth, which includes over 2,800 access points and was completed at the end of October 2005.

The iSPOTS project, developed by the SENSEable City Laboratory in collaboration with Information Services and Technology, aims at describing changes in living and working at MIT by mapping the dynamics of the wireless network in real-time. Thus, the complex and dispersed individual movement patterns that make up the daily life of the campus can be revealed, helping to answer many questions:

  • Which physical spaces are preferred for work in the MIT community?
  • How could future physical planning of the campus suit the community’s changing needs?
  • Which location-based services would be most helpful for students and academics?

Every 15 minutes, the SENSEable City Lab collects data that track how many people are connected to 2,600 of MIT’s 2,800 wireless access points. For wireless users who agree to be identified, the log files also record who they are. These people are tracked on an iSpots website diagram that maps their locations to as close as five meters.

You can make decisions about where you go and what you do based on where other people go and what they do,

says Carlo Ratti Director of the SENSEable City Lab

You might be able to schedule a meeting in a dynamic way by locating people and picking a central location.

That data is converted into real-time maps and statistics posted at ispots.mit.edu.

In the past, [planners] have relied on interviews or observations interpreted by mathematical models to understand how people use the built environment,

says Dennis Frenchman, professor of urban studies and planning

With better information, we can test options more easily and design better, more functional places. At another level, sensing patterns of use will facilitate the design of spaces that respond in real time, adapting themselves hourly or daily to new demands or desires.

In conclusion, as a result of this project MIT hope to gain significant insight into the changing patterns of studying and learning in internet-based working environments. Also, as many cities around the world are launching extensive wireless initiatives, the analysis of the MIT environment could provide valuable insights for the future.