MIT lab creates digital model and formula of how people move across cities

Researchers at the MIT Senseable City Lab have unveiled their latest project, which seeks to understand human mobility in cities. Titled Wanderlust, the project uses large-scale cellphone data to understand the movement of people in the metro areas of Boston, Abidjan, Braga, Lisbon, Porto, Dakar, and Singapore. The result is an interactive digital model which quantifies data through time and space, unlocking a new way of seeing and reading cities.

To undertake the project, the MIT researchers analyzed over 8 billion human mobility traces collected across four continents. In doing so, they found that the flows of movement to all locations in each city followed a predictable, universal pattern. This pattern can be reproduced through a mathematical formula: “The number of visitors to any given location decreases as the inverse square of the product of their visiting frequency and travel distance.” This formula can be simplified to say “people are unlikely to travel far too often.”