We’ve all heard of it: Big Data. While the somewhat nebulous term means different things to different people, it generally refers to the large-scale, anonymous data passively collected from the GPS units and mobile phones and their apps in the vehicles and pockets of people around the globe. How much we all travel now, while tethered to our navigational and mobile devices, means we are creating an unprecedented amount of information about our movements.
It’s no surprise that the availability of these massive datasets fundamentally changes the range of possible modeling techniques, allowing for more accurate forecasts. The challenge now is not in obtaining this kind of data, but in properly handling it. For proper use, big data need to first be diligently cleaned, processed, and expanded to ensure its representativeness. Unlike many firms that simply purchase and blindly apply or tweak pre-processed datasets, RSG’s staff have been engaged with data providers in processing their data and developing improved methods for understanding and expanding it, particularly in understanding the short trips that are missed in big data due to phones and apps battery saving strategies.
RSG approaches big data not simply as a consumer or a modeling firm, but from our own experience as a data provider as well. While anonymous passive data can provide information that surveys alone cannot, it will never replace the rich behavioral understanding that travel surveys provide. Passive data might tell us where people are going and how often, but by itself, it doesn’t tell us why. As a complement to big data, we offer our specialized data collection services, now largely through the use of our premier location-aware market research application, rMoveTM. Our development of this app and use deploying it for large-scale travel surveys gives us unique insight into passively collected big data from phones, apps, and other personal GPS devices.