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Ito World Gives Commuters the Data they Need— and Transforms it into Stunning Visualisations

Public transport is a data-driven matter. People navigating complex cities —like London— often have to use several means of transport  to get to destination. Being able to rely on a stream of real-time information is key to planning their journey.

Transport companies such as Arriva London and mobile apps like Google Maps provide just that: detailed, live updates about mobility in the city. But they are not doing that on their own.

Partnering with both Google and Arriva, and doing the heavy lifting of converting, managing and analysing the data that powers their services, is a Suffolk-born but London-headquartered company called Ito World.

Co-founded in 2006 by Hal Bertram—an award-winning animation technology pioneer previously at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (of Muppets’ fame)— and Peter Miller, Ito is specialised in processing transit data , helping millions of commuters make sense of their cities.

“We use a combination of data analysis algorithms, machine learning, and the expertise of transit professionals to create the most reliable data feed we can,” Ito World CEO Johan Herrlin tells Shack15.

“If the data are wrong, the whole promise of multimodal [transport] solution falls apart. That’s why we strive to deliver data as accurately as we can .”

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An ITO World’s data visualisation showing London’s city lights

But guiding floundering commuters through the urban jungle is only part of what Ito does: the company is also a leader in transforming transit information into stunning visualisations .

Herrlin explains that companies and policy-makers alike turn to Ito when “they have a story to tell about people or vehicles moving around.”

Sometimes, the story can be of journalistic or historical value. The Guardian hired Ito to show readers how the 2011 London riots played out, mobility-wise (in other words: did rioters commute to the riot?) Sir Tim Berners-Lee relied upon an Ito visualisation to expound, in a TED Talk, how ordinary Haitians had used OpenStreetMap to support aid agencies during the 2010 earthquake.

In other cases, visualisations are leveraged not to show what happened in the past, but rather what the future might look like.

Herrlin recalls an instance when an intricate decision about changing the layout of a  thoroughfare was sorted as soon as the people in charge of the decision were shown a data-generated simulation of what traffic would be like before and after the alteration.

“It was so obvious. You could see exactly what the experience would be like for the actual driver once the road was completed, and how quicker they would get to destination compared to the old way,” he says.  “Those policy-makers also had all the statistics, and a 300-page-long report on that road change.  But the visualisation was all they needed to see. Believe me, no one really wants to read a 300 page report.”

Right now, Ito is working on democratising its expertise . The company is developing a software package, Ito Motion, that will allow any user to create broadcast-level visualisations at the touch of a mouse.

Herrlin says the level of complexity dataviz-eager companies and individuals have to face today  is comparable to that bedevilling amateur videomakers in the 1980s—when the most usable tool was “rather clunky” software like Avid.

“Then Apple came out with  iMovie, and they made it possible for an eight-year-old to create a trailer  from the data on their iPhone. But that same journey has not happened in the data analytics space,” he says.

“We want to take people on the same journey: from having to ask for help from data scientists and experts, to simply creating beautiful visualizations that are immediately appealing and insightful for the end user. That’s our end goal right now.”

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BY SHACK15

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