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Analyzing the Changing Mobility Patterns Caused by COVID-19

CEE Assistant Professor Qi “Ryan” Wang in collaboration with Jing Du from the University of Florida was awarded an $89K NSF RAPID grant for “High-Frequency Data Collection for Human Mobility Prediction during COVID-19.”


Abstract Source: NSF

COVID-19 has and is continuing to dramatically alter the lives of millions of Americans as businesses, schools, and many public places have closed around the country. Recommendations of public officials along with individual concerns and fears have fundamentally changed the pattern of daily routines as Americans have adopted the practices of social distancing, sheltering in place, and even self-quarantine. This Rapid Response Research (RAPID) project will improve our ability to assess and predict changes in mobility patterns under sudden disruptions caused by large-scale public health crises such as COVID-19. The specific focus will be to understand changes in mobility patterns and the complex and dynamic decision-making process shaping these changes during the unfolding events associated with this major public health crisis. The project will advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare by greatly improving the preparedness and responses of public agencies facing COVID-19 and future similar public health crises. It will also help understand and predict reduction, change, and recovery of human mobility patterns promoting the progress of science in human mobility and urban resilience, in alignment with the mission of NSF.

The objectives of this RAPID project are to: (1) capture and ultimately predict spatiotemporal changes in the patterns of human mobility in response to the COVID-19 pandemic using social media data mining techniques; (2) perform high-frequency individual-level surveys via a smartphone app to understand motivational, decisional, and sentimental factors shaping changes in mobility patterns; and (3) explore conversion and convergence functions for high fidelity and high accuracy human mobility prediction. The intellectual merits of this research include: the discovery of unique mobility patterns emerging from this public health crises related to social distancing, sheltering, and self-quarantine practices; the unprecedented gathering of longitudinal evidence about the motivational, decisional and sentimental factors shaping mobility decisions; and the development of innovative algorithms of using a small representative sample for high-fidelity mobility prediction. The data and knowledge gained from the project will enhance future studies on urban mobility, travel demand and resource allocation modeling, and help policymakers assess the response and recovery of major urban metropolitan area facing a devastating disaster such as COVID-19. Project outcomes will be disseminated through the Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI), an inter-university partnership between Northeastern University and Harvard University, and through the MetroLab Network.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Related Faculty: Qi “Ryan” Wang

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering