Scientists from the University of Tartu have devised an innovative way to study urban development, using data from mobile positioning, in addition to the usual satellite imagery.
Whereas traditional methods only show physical urban expansion, the new invention also allows to learn where people are actually located within the cityscape - where they work, relax, and sleep.
"Satellite images let us keep an eye on how the infrastructure has changed, but it doesn't tell us how people are using it. However, this is the most valuable information. Today, our best option is to use mobile positioning data that we can get from the mobile operators," said Erki Saluveer, an expert on mobile positioning.
Copernicus Urban Development Analyzer, or CUDA in short, is the first information system in the world that integrates satellite images with mobile positioning data and, once ready, will allows easy access to the resulting high-resolution information maps through a web app. It also offers a new and more exact method for analyzing satellite imagery.
"We thing that CUDA could be used for regional planning by governments and large real-estate developers, and for road network planning by road administration agencies," said Kaupo Voormansik, who came up with CUDA.
CUDA does, however, have wider applications. For instance, it can be used to gather information during humanitarian crises or wars.
"Let us take the situation in eastern Ukraine as an example. How do we get an objective picture of where the people are actually located? There could be large differences compared to the normal situation. There are many times more people in some place than there were before and a lot less than usual in other areas," Voormansik said.
CUDA is still in development. It is expected to be completed in three to five years. Developers have been in talks over the potential use of the system with the city councils of Tallinn and Barcelona. However, Voormansik, who leads the project, said that their largest markets are in Asia and Africa, which are both undergoing rapid urbanization.