Researchers at the University of Tartu organize an international conference on human mobility and big data in Tartu

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The conference Mobile Tartu 2022 and an associated doctoral course will take place for the eighth time from June 28 to 30. This year, more than 100 researchers from more than 20 countries are coming to Tartu. Keynote presentations and panel discussions can also be attended virtually.

The world and human mobility are in constant change, which makes it increasingly important to understand the spatio-temporal dynamics of people’s locations and movement patterns. A better comprehension of human mobility helps to make informed decisions in the public and private sectors. Namely, detailed knowledge of human mobility is crucial for achieving urban climate neutrality goals, developing and implementing smart city solutions or managing the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemics or the refugee crises, which we have encountered over the recent years. Mobile big data-based research helps to provide new insights into these global challenges.

The conference Mobile Tartu 2022, organized by the Mobility Lab of the Department of Geography, University of Tartu, discusses theoretical and methodological aspects related to the use of various types of mobility data (including mobile positioning data and social media data) and their application in human mobility research,  urban mobility,  as well as transport development and statistics.

Siiri Silm, the head of the organizing committee and Associate Professor of Human Geography, emphasizes the importance of studying people’s locations and spatial mobility: ”People need to move. This is well illustrated by the recent COVID crisis when restrictions locked people in the walls. This did not reduce people’s desire for movement. When restrictions eased, people moved even more than before.” Many new areas have emerged that require information on the locations and movements of people, e.g., home office workers and their mobility patterns, the locations of Ukrainian refugees, etc. ”Many questions about people’s daily mobility cannot be answered using traditional data, whereas innovative data sources such as mobile positioning, smartphone-based GPS data, and location-based social media data can certainly help. To use big data effectively for understanding social processes requires a large volume of preliminary work including the development of necessary methodologies,“ Silm adds.

The conference features four keynote speakers. Prof. Mei-Po Kwan from the Chinese University of Hong Kong will discuss the use of big data and geospatial technologies for smart cities research. Prof. Robert J. Sampson from Harvard University will focus on people’s everyday mobility and its connectedness to inequality and well-being in cities. Prof. Malene Freudendal-Pedersen from Aalborg University will address the planning of human-scale cities. Finally, Prof. Kimmo Kaski from Aalto University will discuss the analytical aspects and methodologies of mobility. In addition to the keynote lectures, the conference will feature panel discussions on sustainable mobility and the advancements in mobility data and methods with researchers from Estonian and other world universities and the representative of the Tartu City government. The conference also includes a number of thematic sessions on the use of big data in mobility research, the production of official statistics as well as new methodologies and analytical tools with examples from Europe, the USA and Asia. The conference is preceded by a doctoral course taking place on June 28, where students will develop their skills in exploring mobility data through practical tasks.

The keynote presentations and panel discussions of the conference will be accessible also virtually on June 29 and 30 from 9:00 to 9:40 and from 16:00 to 17:30 (EEST, +03:00 UTC). The virtual events can be attended via the conference website

The conference is an excellent opportunity to get an overview of the latest research and developments in the use of mobile big data and to meet the strong international network of mobility researchers. The conference was founded in 2008 by Rein Ahas, a Professor of Human Geography, who had started mobile positioning-based mobility research at the University of Tartu at the beginning of this century.

The Mobile Tartu 2022 conference and the PhD course are organised by the Mobility Lab, University of Tartu, in cooperation with the Digital Geography Lab, University of Helsinki, and mobile data analytics company Positium from Estonia. The Network on European Communications and Transport Activities Research (NECTAR) and United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) will co-organise dedicated sessions at the conference. The conference is supported by the Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, the Doctoral School of Earth Sciences and Ecology financed by the EU European Regional Development Fund (University of Tartu ASTRA project PER ASPERA), EIT Urban Mobility co-funded by the EU, and the Hawke EU Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence, University of South Australia.

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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