A tweet isn’t just 140 characters of your thoughts; every time you send out these micro-messages, you offer up a cache of information that describes your surroundings. Take, for instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Through geographically tracked tweets, analysts are digitally taking the campus’ pulse.
For Vijay Gadepally and Zachary Weber, researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, that data along with a 3D printer, helped them to create LuminoCity, 3D-printed replica of the MIT campus equipped with a projector that lights up certain parts of the model based on tweets.
“Essentially you can think of it as a three-dimensional heat map that was created based on specific search terms that people may have,” Weber told the Daily Dot.
Gadepally and Weber presented LuminoCity last month at the IEEE High Performance Extreme Computing Conference, which they said was their second time presenting the product since its conception this past spring.
Weber and Gadepally have so far tracked day-to-day aspects of campus life. For example, people talk about food when they’re close to a dining hall or restaurant. Talk nearby classrooms increases in the middle of the day, whereas activity at common areas increases in the evening, Gadepally said.
“The students abandoned the academic buildings through the night and they stayed up too late in the student center” Weber added. “College students like to start the day a bit late.”
A group of civil and environmental engineering students also incorporated LuminoCity into their senior project, Clairity. The project involved setting up sensors around the campus that tracked the air quality in an area. The results were then transmitted to LuminoCity and represented on the 3D map.
The scaled MIT replica is made from translucent material that allows a projector to serve as a backlight, illuminating different parts of the model based on the relevance of a certain kind of data. In Gadepally and Weber’s case, tweets. A touchscreen on the front allows one to go through a menu and navigate through the data. Gadepally said the screen can also be controlled using an Xbox and Kinect.
The team gathered tweets via Twitter Decahose (a tool that gives them the ability to pull in massive amounts of tweets). Software that they developed sorts through tweets and categorizes them based on geographic points. The software then translates a certain location to correspond with the 3D model.
Gadepally, an experienced big data researcher, saw how the amount of information available to access has grown exponentially within the past few years but remains challenging to work with. “Everything that we do with data is really to support people being able to understand information, gain insight, and gain knowledge.”
While LuminoCity started out as a side project, the team has grown to include eight people who work on different aspects based on their expertise. Gadepally and Weber foresee LuminoCity having uses beyond campus life, possibly for city planners or architects. Weber explains that they’re still talking to people to assess interest and potential future uses.
Meanwhile, 3D printing has become an increasingly popular way to create everything from medical tools and equipment for NASA to clothing and even a castle. Weber explains that a current problem they’d like to overcome is the time that it takes to print a 3D model. But as long as the technology keeps improving, he said, then the easier and faster it would be to produce another LuminoCity.
Gadepally also wants to look into other technologies they could make use of in order to better enhance the analytical aspect of LuminoCity.
And while tweets are a more lighthearted and ubiquitous source of information that have so far served the researchers well, it’s not the only thing LuminoCity would be able to visualize. “Since it’s not an aesthetic model and it has a projection behind it, whoever is using it for their own purposes can come up with their own scheme and own analysis,” Weber said. “It works for whatever data you can imagine.”