September 8, 2006 9:28 AM PDT

When in Rome, you might be tracked

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Rome might not have been built in a day, but it was mapped in three dimensions.

That is, when Romans had their cell phones turned on. Telecom Italia, Italy's main telephone operator, has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a real-time mapping system that tracks how people move in urban spaces.

Real Time Rome debuted on Friday at the Venice Biennale, the canal-laden city's biennial exhibition of fine arts and, in recent years, technology projects related to urban studies.

Explorers of the Real Time Rome exhibit will encounter large, colorful wall projections that, at first glance, might look more like stills of a funky computer screensaver than a map. When they look closer, they'll find that lines and spots of bright color represent heavily trafficked routes and popular neighborhoods throughout the city.

Real-time mapping in Rome

The MIT technology, based in part on the Geographic Information System, maps real-time data gathered from mobile operators and transportation authorities to create a bigger, location- and population-based picture.

Carlo Ratti, the director of MIT's newly formed Senseable City Laboratory, which is running Real Time Rome and a similar Wi-Fi-based project on MIT's campus, says the maps give insight into a city's popular hangouts and traffic flows--data that architects and city planners crave.

Real Time Rome is also being used to figure out how tourists in Rome move throughout the city and can show where spikes in the volume of calls happen. One sample image from the project, for example, shows spiked cell phone usage around Olympic Stadium in Rome and the Vatican during Madonna's infamous on-the-cross appearance last month. Another shows Rome's population movement around the time of Italy's World Cup win.

"You can see where people are, where you can go and get a drink," Ratti said in an interview with MIT's Technology Review magazine in May. "Maybe you can also see tourists and the concentration of different nationalities in the city."

But equipped with this technology, could your ex be able to track you down on your next date?

According to a statement from the Senseable City Lab, information on individual cell phone users' locations are kept anonymous.

Ratti says the monitoring technology presents a "dream scenario" for urban developers and emergency relief agencies alike. "Something like Katrina would never have happened if you had such a system...You could identify where people were after a disaster (if their cell phones were working) and actually go and help them," he told the Technology Review.

"We already have many cities onboard, including Florence and Rome in Italy, and Zaragoza in Spain," he said in a Thursday interview with CNET News.com. "Negotiations are under way with several others."

MIT researchers last year worked on a similar cell phone-based mapping project in Graz, Austria.

Real Time Rome is featured in the 10th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale through Nov. 19.

See more CNET content tagged:
Italy, city, Real-Time, cell phone, transportation

2 comments

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Realtime tracking / location privacy ...
Tracking someone's every move with 5 minutes interval produces 105120 records per year.
If the data is recorded in differential mode X and Y coordinates can fit in 16 bit values, with once per hour/day absolute value.
That means your every move can be stored in less than 0.5 Meg per year, uncompressed. At the current storage cost, this is
0.025 cent / year.
With such low costs, you can bet your data is stored, and not only to produce art.

Maybe you should seriously think about going to the next Republican Convention, and don't forget your cell phone !
Posted by My-Self (242 comments )
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Very simple solution...
A very simple solution...turn your cell phone off. If it's turned off, then they can't track you. Carry a pager and call them back, using your cell phone of course. :)
Posted by Maelstorm (130 comments )
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