Sidewalk Labs spins off smart city urban planning tool

September 16, 2019 //By Rich Pell
Sidewalk Labs spins off smart city urban planning tool
Sidewalk Labs (New York, NY), Alphabet Inc.'s smart cities subsidiary, has announced the spin off of its Replica data-gathering urban planning modeling tool.

Replica - originally the Model Lab - was started more than two years ago to explore modeling as a means of addressing large urban problems. The newly formed company, which will continue to partner with Sidewalk Labs, is focused on helping public agencies face the challenges of learning more about the data, tools, and processes they use to better understand the movement of people and goods in the places they manage.

"At the heart of these challenges," says Nick Bowden, CEO and co-founder of Replica, "is a lack of insight into the complex interdependencies between transportation and land use. Public agencies face an incomplete picture of city movement patterns, which can lead to a lower confidence in critical transportation and land use decisions."

"New mobility, rising housing costs, and aging infrastructure have accelerated the urgency to find better solutions," says Bowden. "Since the beginning, we've been committed to advancing the work of public agencies in these critical areas."

Replica bills itself as a user-friendly modeling tool that uses de-identified mobile location data to give public agencies a comprehensive portrait of how, when, and why people travel.

"Replica," says Bowden, "is not interested in the movement of individuals; we are interested in the collective movement of a particular place. For this reason, we only start with data that has been de-identified. This data is then used to train a travel behavior model — basically, a set of rules to represent the movement in a particular place."

These movement models are then matched with a "synthetic" population - created using samples of census demographic data to create a broad new data set that is statistically representative of the actual population. The combination of the travel models with a representative population is a set of replicate trip patterns verified with real-world movement counts - an output that is both privacy-sensitive and extremely useful for public agencies.

Along with the spin-off announcement, the company

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