Year 2022 for the Mobility Lab

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Another year is passing by, and it is time to look back to its glories and challenges! 

The highlight of the year was most certainly the 8th Mobile Tartu Conference and the related PhD Course, held both in Palamuse and in Tartu on June 28–30. The conference was a happy post-pandemic reunion of the mobility research community, and 100 participants from more than 20 countries arrived in Estonia with a few more online presenters. Organizing the conference, led by Siiri, was a joint effort of all lab members, student volunteers, and representatives from Positium and the Digital Geography Lab from the University of Helsinki. We are grateful for all presenters, participants and sponsors! The recordings of keynote speeches and panel discussions can be watched on the conference website. 

A kick-off of the pre-conference PhD Course in Palamuse. Photo credit: Lauri Kulpsoo. 

Earlier, in the spring semester, Age, Siiri and Mirjam launched a public online lecture series on mobility analysis and planning for human-scale cities. The event series was an inspirational and insightful experience to connect graduate students and people from the transport and urban planning community with leading scholars and experts from Estonia, Europe and Australia. The series sought to answer the question of how to promote human-scale, sustainable, and just cities through mobility analysis and transport planning. Individual lectures addressed transport policy, sustainability aspects of mobility and transport, both traditional and novel methods in mobility analysis, as well as innovative technologies and future solutions and their social impact. Recordings, either in Estonian or English depending on the lecturer, are available on the website to continue to support learning and discussions in this field.  

In the autumn, a new version of our smartphone application MobilityLog, designed for smartphone-based mobility and activity space research, was launched. MobilityLog can be used in Android phones by volunteer participants who consent to GPS tracking over a certain time period. In addition to collecting locational and call intensity data, the new version includes a pop-up questionnaire functionality to enable location-based questions. Also, the frequency of GPS point collection has been adjusted to optimise between data density and battery capacity concerns. Siiri and Anniki were most involved in preparing and managing the tender, which was then carried out by the company Superhands. 

Siiri Silm introducing the new version of the smartphone application MobilityLog. Photo credit: Laura Altin. 

As a university research group, our membership is always dynamic.  

In January, we were very happy to welcome Dr Karl Saidla from Ottawa to join our team as a postdoctoral researcher. Karl studies public policy decisions behind the successful implementation of bike-share systems in Tartu and Helsinki. Besides research, he keeps reminding us of the tranquillity and liveability of Tartu, and the quality and beauty of Southern Estonian ski tracks. 😊  

Karl Saidla, our new postdoctoral research fellow. Photo from a private collection. 

In addition to a new arrival, the year also started off with a happy event when our long-term member Anniki successfully defended her doctoral thesis on the “Relationships between personal social networks and spatial mobility with mobile phone data” under the supervision of Siiri from our lab and Anu Masso from TalTech. Later this year, she moved on to TalTech as a postdoctoral researcher in the field of micro-mobility studies. At the same time as Anniki, also Mirjam moved on to new fields. We wish both best of luck in their undertakings!  

Siiri Silm, Anniki Puura and Ano Masso after the doctoral defense of Anniki. Photo from a private collection.  

In the autumn, after strategy and development discussions, our lab’s leadership model was changed. We introduced a rotation-based system with a three-year-long term of leadership. We believe that this model brings some new perspectives and synergies to our lab while building upon the current strengths and expertise of our members, existing data infrastructure, and traditions. The leadership team of the lab chose Age to take over in October with sincere gratitude to Siiri, who led the lab firmly through the difficult times after the early decease of our dear friend Rein in 2018.  

Siiri handed over the lab leadership to Age, one of the members of the lab leadership team. Photo credit: Lauri Kulpsoo, Janika Raun.

Our traditions include social events, such as the summer seminar in Vaaba, South Estonia, Christmas celebrations in Tartu, snowboarding day in February and a visit to the cemetery in December to commemorate Rein, his personality, visionary thoughts and impact on us, and the time we spent together.  

Summer seminar in Vaaba. Photo credit: Age Poom.

Coming back to day-to-day activities, then we are happy to revive our biweekly research seminar tradition to share and discuss our ongoing research. This autumn, we have discussed machine learning solutions for travel mode detection in the case of GPS data (Ago), novel ways to detect activity space characteristics of individuals (Anto), the spatiotemporal behaviour of Ukrainian refugees in Estonia (Siiri and Ago), eye-tracking experimentation of the environmental quality of pedestrian travel environments (Age), and research to policy strategies (Karl). We will continue in the new year with a variety of topics from data practices and ICT hygiene to solutions for near-real-life modal split detection. 

Some academic merits. In 2022, we were responsible for or participated in teaching five undergraduate and six graduate courses. Two Horizon 2020 projects, one Jean Monnet Erasmus+ network action and one Estonian Research Infrastructures Roadmap project ended this year. Lab members published six scientific journal and two encyclopaedia articles, contributed to project reports, popularization articles, radio broadcasts on mobility studies and planning, and a workshop at the European Researchers’ Night, and gave numerous presentations and participated in several panel discussions at scientific or policy events held in ten different countries. The world seems to be open again after two years of travel restrictions and limited mobility! 

2022 also brought great recognition to the lab.  

The Journal of Location Based Services awarded Olle, Ago, Kerli and Siiri with a Best Paper Award for their article “The impact of COVID-19 on daily lives of transnational people based on smartphone data: Estonians in Finland”.  

Our recent graduate student Martin Haamer received first prize in the national contest for university students for his master’s thesis “Assessing public transport accessibility utilising GPS data“, supervised by Anto.   

Towards the end of the year, Ago, our doctoral researcher, won Lev Vassiljev scholarship to continue cartography-related studies. Woop woop! 

Very well deserved everyone and congratulations! 

Martin Haamer after winning the first prize. Photo credit: ETAg. 

Last but not least, the new year will bring us two new visiting professors, people, who are the least new to us 😊 Prof. Jukka Krisp and Prof. Matthew Zook are nominated to visiting professors of our university for the next five years to recognise their long-term contribution to our study programmes. Jukka, Matt, and Frank (a visiting professor since 2015) come every spring to Tartu to give courses to the graduate students of the MSc level study programmes in Geography, Geoinformatics for Urbanised Society, and Geo-information Science and Earth Observation for Environmental Modelling and Management (Erasmus Mundus joint MSc programme). 

Matthew Zook and Jukka Krisp are our new visiting professors starting from January 2023. Photo credit: Mobility Lab archive.

We wish everyone Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  

The Mobility Lab of the University of Tartu is an interdisciplinary research group that studies human mobility and its associations with society and the environment using mobile (big) data. 

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