Daimler, Moovel Lab: Roads to Rome, Map of Europe (Title Image)

Roads to Rome – Future scenarios with DataViz.

  • 3. March 2016
  • Mobility Concept
  • Illustration: Moovel Lab
  • Text: Verena Dauerer

The moovel lab in Stuttgart visualises traffic flows and provides insights into the future of mobility.

What if drones could replace taxis, cars in cities were covered with grass and all roads led to Rome? The expert team at moovel lab, a small unit of moovel group GmbH in Stuttgart, has been pursuing research in this area for over a year now. The Daimler subsidiary’s core product is the moovel app, which gets its users from A to B as efficiently as possible. But the three-strong moovel lab team has also been evolving scenarios for the future of mobility that go far beyond the scope of this app. Eileen Mandir, Head of Product & Lab at moovel group, and her interdisciplinary team are researching movement patterns and traffic flows in urban areas. An important aspect here is to establish a connection between the moovel app’s user, the data and the technology behind it. The goal is to recognise overarching mobility patterns by turning ‘big’ data into ‘smart’ data.

So how can urban traffic flows be recorded, analysed and interpreted? One way is to use data visualisation. In order to be able to visually interpret causal connections within the data, the team from Stuttgart use a variety of formats such as map displays and videos that look like something out of science fiction.

Eileen Mandir, Head of Product & Lab, moovel

The interesting thing about the lab is that it uses an algorithm to link data from vehicles with virtually any data from the internet. The speed at which these computations are made is also impressive: only five hours for the map of Europe and around two hours for the map of the USA. “When we are dealing with innovations that are as disruptive as the invention of the automobile 130 years ago, conventional traffic planning tools simply can’t cope,” explains Mandir. Due to the parallel development of autonomous driving, electromobility and the sharing economy there is a lack of valid assumptions about future conditions. According to Mandir: “Speculation is the only available option here. We don’t know yet how visions for the future will convert into products. Our work is a combination of clear, fact-driven studies and their artistic implementation. We apply the methods of speculative design to develop scenarios for a conceivable and/or desirable future.” This so-called ‘speculative’ design incorporates elements from both art and science. On the one hand it stays as close as possible to a potentially real future, on the other it retains as much artistic freedom as necessary.

' Mobility and urban development are highly topical social issues which we are placing in the public arena. '

Eileen Mandir, Head of Product & Lab, moovel

Going beyond the limits of conventional traffic planning tools

In its latest project, Roads to Rome, moovel lab is using speculative design to clearly visualise how the evaluation of the most efficient routes to a destination can be summarised into ‘street DNA’. The starting point for the project is the saying “All roads lead to Rome”. What if this were to be applied to today’s mobility issues, in order to determine the most efficient routes? To this end, Benedikt Groß, Research Associate for Speculative and Computational Design at moovel lab, analysed the most direct route from A to B with his team – in this case to Rome. It is not only the anonymised data from the movement profile of a networked vehicle that influences the navigational recommendations. The map network itself represents a more fundamental level of detail. With its millions of nodes it is able to provide information on infrastructures and how these can be best used.

Benedikt Groß, Research Associate for Speculative and Computational Design, moovel lab

The point is to start a debate

Benedikt Groß cast a grid comprising 500,000 points over a map of Europe and determined from each of these points the shortest driving time by car to a single destination. For calculation purposes the team used the GraphHopper open source routing engine, a route calculation application which functions in a manner comparable to that of navigation systems. With the aid of an algorithm developed by the team, the individual routes were then merged into a vast whole. The more often routes were used, the thicker the line was visualised on the map. A dense network for Europe then gradually evolved that identified the main routes to Rome.

' Navigation greatly influences our mobility behaviour. '

Benedikt Groß, Research Associate for Speculative and Computational Design, moovel lab

The team finally extended the idea involving a single destination to the North American continent, where several towns named Rome were also to be found. This approach has resulted in over 3.3 million routes to date that show up as elaborate and colourful representations of mobility behaviour. In contrast to protracted research projects run behind closed doors, the lab wants to reach the public via twitter, blogs, their website and workshops as quickly as possible – the intention being to start a debate. The criticism or support received by the moovel lab team gives it an indication of the direction in which it should continue its work.

Speculative design

  • A design approach which aims to visualise future scenarios in such a way as to enable concrete findings about possible developments.

Visualisations provide insights into efficiency

A further idea is the so-called ‘urban mobility fingerprint’. This fingerprint of mobility in and around urban centres is designed to show how efficiently laid out the traffic infrastructure of a metropolis is. The starting point is the assumption of how far one can get from the city centre in 15 minutes drive time. The differences between the city of Berlin, for example, in which everything is oriented towards the centre, and Dubai, where the roads are arranged in rows along the Gulf Coast, shed light on the efficiency of the road network – a city’s characteristic “road DNA”. As Eileen Mandir says: “These visual realisations enable us to illustrate complex topics for the general public as a means of initiating a debate on the efficiency of future traffic flows.” Insights that were once gained from lists and tables after months of data collection can now be deduced from colourful patterns in only a few hours.

' We apply the methods of speculative design to develop scenarios for a conceivable and/or desirable future '

Eileen Mandir, Head of Product and Lab, moovel

Roads to Rome is just the start. By analysing, visualising and, in the end, radically simplifying the daily mobility of millions of people the moovel team aims to improve the quality of life in urban centres over the coming years with the help of their visualisations.

moovel lab:


Generative design

  • A design method whose output is determined by collections of data or algorithms.