The role of ‘little data’ in shaping the future of smart cities and individual mobility

Lori Castle
New York 40° 42' 52.38" N, -74° 0' 25.632" E

From the biggest data to the most personalized experience, Jane Macfarlane, Chief Scientist and Head of Research for HERE explains the importance of translating information into knowledge, instead of becoming mired in sheer quantities.

Big data has gone beyond the buzzword. Today’s big data environment is rapidly changing because of the unprecedented amount of devices and sensors collecting information. Nearly every piece of hardware now has the ability to collect data - the key will be to focus on what insight, and higher level activity, you want to achieve versus collecting data for collection sake.

Jane Macfarlane recently gave a presentation at Beyond Data 2016 in Eindhoven where the Euroforum event is being held.

Titled —“Location: A Persistent Framework”, the Chief Scientist and Head of Research at HERE explains her focus: “My overall messaging is around the connected mobility ecosystem that lives inside the urban environment of our cities,” Jane says, “There’s a confluence of citizens, social systems [transit/transport], technology and government coming together and we need to understand how to best utilize big data from the many to generate contextual experiences for the individual; all while preparing for and creating tomorrow’s cities.”


Jane goes on to say, “You have to understand your data sources, what the characteristics are and evaluate quality before you are able to add analytics and gain insight.”

Context is king

In the HERE research group, the process begins with data visualization tools. The human brain has superior pattern recognition capabilities, so the team looks at data quality and density over the map first and creates algorithms based on the apparent trends.

Of course, with location-based services, big data is analyzed through context — whereby data draws on a virtual map a meaningful picture of the relationships between individual activities and the physical environment. So while “big data” may represent the greater physical environment, Jane explains it is context that creates the all-important pieces of “little data,” or the hyperlocal information (i.e. real-time traffic information to nearby shops and services) that truly creates a relevant and personalized experience for an individual moving from point A to B.


Audience at Beyond Data 2015 Audience at Beyond Data 2015


“That’s our purpose at HERE, to make the journey about each individual and thereby, make the user’s experience better,” she says.

Smart cities

Hyperlocal information will also come from the improvement of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and the smartening of cities. “We have to build a collaborative space where data can be submitted for the benefit of all to create a much richer experience. We also have to rethink our systems,” says Jane, “For example, when autonomous vehicles become a reality, how will this new dynamic public transit system change the dynamics of a city?”

“It may be quite some time away, but city planners and the public and private sector alike need to think about these potential transformations now. How do we design to ensure that new technology results a harmonious place for citizens to live?”

Beyond Data 2016 focuses on answering questions like this by bringing together stakeholders to share experiences, shape ideas and tackle problems. The agenda focuses on implemented projects, collaborations, outcomes and next steps from cities, industries, research institutions and start-ups.

Images courtesy of Beyond Data 2016

Topics: Big Data, Features, Editor's picks, Smart cities