Section: Application Domains

Urban participatory sensing

Urban sensing can be seen as the same evolution of the environment digitalization as social networking has been for information flows. Indeed, besides dedicated and deployed sensors and actuators, still required for specific sensing operations such as the real-time monitoring of pollution levels, there is a wide range of relevant urban data that can be collected without the need for new communication infrastructures, leveraging instead on the pervasiveness of smart mobile terminals. With more than 80% of the population owning a mobile phone, the mobile market has a deeper penetration than electricity or safe drinking water. Originally designed for voice transmitted over cellular networks, mobile phones are today complete computing, communication and sensing devices, offering in a handheld device multiple sensors and communication technologies.

Mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets are indeed able to gather a wealth of informations through embedded cameras, GPS receivers, accelerometers, and cellular, WiFi and bluetooth radio interfaces. When collected by a single device, such data may have small value per-se, however its fusion over large scales could prove critical for urban sensing to become an economically viable mainstream paradigm.

This is even more true when less traditional mobile terminals are taken into account: privately-owned cars, public transport means, commercial fleets, and even city bikes are starting to feature communication capabilities and the Floating Car Data (FCD) they generate can bring a dramatic contribution to the cause of urban sensing. Indeed, other than enlarging the sensing scope even further, e.g., through Electronic Control Units (ECUs), these mobile terminals are not burdened by strong energy constraints and can thus significantly increase the granularity of data collection. This data can be used by authorities to improve public services, or by citizens who can integrate it in their choices. However, in order to kindle this hidden information, important problems related to data gathering, aggregation, communication, data mining, or even energy efficiency need to be solved.