Human mobility researchers gathered at virtual conference Mobile Tartu 2020

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Mobile Tartu virtual conference 2020. Photo: Videal Productions OÜ

The 7th mobility research conference Mobile Tartu was held on 30 June, brought together leading human mobility researchers from around the world. More than 240 participants from 48 countries registered. This year’s event was a virtual conference, and participation was free.

The need to analyse people’s location and mobility is very important in today’s society. This was the case before the coronavirus outbreak when people travelled a lot, and this is the case in the situation of limited mobility. There are increasingly more data sources that help analyse people’s everyday spatial location.

The conference Mobile Tartu 2020, organised by the Mobility Lab and the Institute of Computer Science of the University of Tartu, focuses on the theoretical and methodological aspects of the use of various mobility data (for example, mobile positioning and social media data), and the application of these data in statistics, in smart city and transportation development, and human mobility research.

According to Siiri Silm, Senior Research Fellow in Human Geography at the University of Tartu and the main organiser of the conference, human mobility analysis is useful for many fields of research, from the currently topical modelling of virus spread and research on changes in mobility habits, to smarter planning of cities and the whole society, and compiling more up-to-date statistics. “People are increasingly mobile, although the opportunities for movement were reduced for some time because of restrictions imposed due to the virus and the emergency situation. There are many fields that need the latest mobility information, and this is where new data collection methods, such as mobile positioning, smartphone-based GPS tracking and geo-tagged social media data, can be useful. In order to use the data and actually say something about what is going on in society, we have to do much preliminary work and develop the methodology,” Silm explained.

The conference focuses on different stages of mobility research. The keynote speakers, Professor Georg Gartner of the Vienna University of Technology, and Professor Haosheng Huang of Ghent University discuss the methodological aspects of using location-based data, Professor Rob Kitchin of Maynooth University speaks about compiling official statistics (incl. in the context of COVID-19), and Professor Esteban Moro of the Carlos III University of Madrid, about inequality in cities. Separate sessions deal with the use of big data for official statistics and for developing mobility opportunities and transportation.

The conference offers an excellent opportunity to get an overview of mobility research and developments in mobility data in the world, and meet the leading scientists of this field. The initiator of the Mobile Tartu conferences was Rein Ahas, Professor of Human Geography, who also laid the foundation for big-data-based mobility research at the University of Tartu and for a special community of mobility researchers.

The conference was organised with the support of the Doctoral School of Earth Sciences and Ecology, financed by the EU European Regional Development Fund (University of Tartu’s ASTRA project PER ASPERA). The Network on European Communications and Transport Activity Research (NECTAR) and the Jean Monnet Network on “Cooperative, Connected and Automated Mobility: EU and Australasian Innovations” (CCAMEU) participate in organising the sessions dealing with mobility, transportation and the smart city.The session “Big data for official statistics” is supported by the United Nations Big Data Global Working Group, the University of Tartu’s spin-off Positium, and the Bank of Estonia.

Mobile Tartu 2020 virtual conference playback is available at (event id: MOBILETARTU2020).

A special issue in a scientific journal

A special issue in a scientific journal cited in ISI Web of Science is planned to be published. The journal will be selected after receiving papers. The papers from Mobile Tartu 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018 have been published in the Journal of Urban Technology, the Journal of Location Based Services, and International Journal of Geographical Information Science.

Submit an articel to by July 31.

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