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Using Smartphones and Sensor Technologies to Automate the Collection of Travel Data

Problem Definition

This research project is trying to answer the following three questions:

1- How to continuously track location in a battery-friendly way?

2- How to determine the possible activity at certain location?

3- How to automatically detect transportation mode with a generic method?

Significance of the Problem

Understanding the behaviour of transportation system users is crucial for implementing effective control strategies to alleviate congestion, improve transportation level-of-service and achieve better quality of life. However, traditional travel data collection methods are not respondent-friendly because they often require extra effort from survey participants to record and recall their activities, i.e., keep activity-travel dairy. As a result, a multi-day personal travel survey is often run for a few days or at most weeks to limit the survey burden on the respondents. Such restriction makes traditional travel survey methods inappropriate for a long period data collection, which is necessary to capture variations in activity-travel behaviour that may not occur within a short period (e.g. recreational trips). Lack of accurate data of activity-travel patterns limits travel demand modelling capability. It also restricts the ability of the decision makers to understand the influence of various transportation policies on activity-travel behaviour.

Approach and Impact

The integrated framework we developed in this project uses smartphones and sensors technologies to pervasively collect travel data. We developed the framework to achieve three essential requirements:

  1. Integrate various smartphone sensors into the collection travel data to increase its quality and quantity;
  2. Automate the identification of travel activities and transportation modes, to a fine level of detail, in order to reduce respondents’ burden; and
  3. Have a battery-friendly operation to practically collect 24 hours travel data for long-term travel surveys.

Prototype App


To implement this project we implemented an android app that collects travel data including car information from an OBD scanner.

Screenshots of the smartphone app



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