Human Thermodynamics

by Galen Wilkerson / TU-Berlin

To understand energy consumption of cities using mobility data.

The city can be seen as an organism, with flows of people, energy, and waste. This new mobility data lets us look at something that has been hard to understand until now, and that is -critical- for our future - the urban 'metabolism'.

Mobility requires energy, either in the form of automobile driving or other forms of transportation.

Houses require mobility to exist. A house far away from commonly visited places or jobs markets requires a lot of mobility. This is a fundamental source of energy consumption, hence CO2 emissions and climate change.

We wish to first estimate energy budget of geographic areas, then see if we can begin to understand them using physical models of kinetic and potential energy. I.e. how much we move around and how far we live from those places we visit.

Understanding this can let us do many things - understand populations that are underserved, understand what kinds of cities are 'efficient' and what are not, and perhaps begin to understand fundamental 'laws' about how people move.

This work will be conducted with Felix Creutzig's group at the Technical University of Berlin this summer, possibly continuing into fall as PhD research, pending funding.

It will be -very- useful to understand high-resolution mobility. Other public datasets only record location when calls, tweets, or other 'check-ins' are made, so they are very difficult to use. Understanding actual mobility over time allows us to do detailed analysis, and also to calibrate these other datasets so that we can use them as well.

OpenPaths data will be kept on a password-protected Linux computer that is fire-walled and does not allow incoming web access. Any access to the data will either be over an encrypted ssh connection or directly sitting at the computer, which will be kept in a secure, locked location. If possible, we might add a layer of protection requiring remote access only from in-lab computers, requiring two ssh sessions to access the server holding the data. Data will be processed on the machine.

We plan to publish a paper that describes energy consumption of an city or region, perhaps comparing regions. Results and figures will also be presented on a website for public access.

The long-term goal is to reduce negative aspects of transportation and mobility - climate change, oil dependence, health effects, lack of access to mobility, and many others. Transportation will have to change fundamentally in the 21st century, and this kind of research will help us do that.