Quantifying the sensing power of vehicle fleets

Attaching sensors to crowd-sourced vehicles could provide a cheap and accurate way to monitor air pollution, road quality, and other aspects of a city’s health. But in order for so-called drive-by sensing to be practically useful, the sensor-equipped vehicle fleet needs to have large “sensing power”—that is, it needs to cover a large fraction of a city’s area during a given reference period. Here, the authors provide an analytic description of the sensing power of taxi fleets, which agrees with empirical data from nine major cities. The authors' results show taxis’ sensing power is unexpectedly large—in Manhattan; just 10 random taxis cover one-third of street segments daily, which certifies that drive-by sensing can be readily implemented in the real world.Sensors can measure air quality, traffic congestion, and other aspects of urban environments. The fine-grained diagnostic information they provide could help urban managers to monitor a city’s health. Recently, a “drive-by” paradigm has been proposed in which sensors are deployed on third-party vehicles, enabling wide coverage at low cost. Research on drive-by sensing has mostly focused on sensor engineering, but a key question remains unexplored: How many vehicles would be required to adequately scan a city? Here, the authors address this question by analyzing the sensing power of a taxi fleet. Taxis, being numerous in cities, are natural hosts for the sensors. Using a ball-in-bin model in tandem with a simple model of taxi movements, the authors analytically determine the fraction of a city’s street network sensed by a fleet of taxis during a day. The authors' results agree with taxi data obtained from nine major cities and reveal that a remarkably small number of taxis can scan a large number of streets. This finding appears to be universal, indicating its applicability to cities beyond those analyzed here. Moreover, because taxis’ motion combines randomness and regularity (passengers’ destinations being random, but the routes to them being deterministic), the spreading properties of taxi fleets are unusual; in stark contrast to random walks, the stationary densities of the authors' taxi model obey Zipf’s law, consistent with empirical taxi data. The authors' results have direct utility for town councilors, smart-city designers, and other urban decision makers.


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  • Accession Number: 01717573
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jul 29 2019 4:38PM