Human Mobility Patterns

author: Albert-László Barabási, Center of Complex Networks Research (CCNR), Northeastern University
published: Oct. 17, 2008,   recorded: September 2008,   views: 10280


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Despite their importance for urban planning, traffic forecasting and the spread of biological and mobile viruses, our understanding of the basic laws governing human motion remains limited owing to the lack of tools to monitor the time-resolved location of individuals. We study the trajectory of anonymized mobile phone users, finding that, in contrast with the random trajectories predicted by the prevailing Le´vy flight and random walk models, human trajectories show a high degree of temporal and spatial regularity, each individual being characterized by a time independent characteristic travel distance and a significant probability to return to a few highly frequented locations. After correcting for differences in travel distances and the inherent anisotropy of each trajectory, the individual travel patterns collapse into a single spatial probability distribution, indicating that, despite the diversity of their travel history, humans follow simple reproducible patterns. This inherent similarity in travel patterns could impact all phenomena driven by human mobility, from epidemic prevention to emergency response, urban planning and agent-based modeling.

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