Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Analyzing newly available data about the intricacies of urban life could make cities better.

Commuting through Beijing’s apocalyptic congestion and pollution can test anyone’s patience. But it has inspired big ideas from Yu Zheng, lead researcher for Microsoft Research Asia.

Take pollution. Most air-quality monitoring systems in China give a reading for an entire city. But air quality can vary greatly within cities depending on traffic, building density, and weather conditions. Zheng is taking that into account with a new project, U-Air. It analyzes current and past data from monitoring networks and many other sources to infer air quality at any given point in the city. Eventually Zheng expects the system to predict air quality one or even five hours in advance. That could help people figure out, say, when and where to go jogging—or when they should shut the window or put on a mask.

In an earlier project, Zheng and his team showed that online mapping services could recommend much better driving directions by taking gridlock into account rather than just finding the shortest routes. The trick was to learn from Beijing taxi drivers, who are forced to find the smartest routes every day. Zheng’s group analyzed GPS data from 33,000 Beijing cabbies and figured out how to teach their subtle methods to a mapping program.

“When I see a problem,” he says, “I feel passionate about trying to solve it.”

Michael Standaert

Credit: Photograph by Noah Sheldon

Tagged: Energy, Materials, EmTech2014

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me