Movement data in GIS #16: towards pure Python trajectories using GeoPandas

Many of my previous posts in this series [1][2][3] have relied on PostGIS for trajectory data handling. While I love PostGIS, it feels like overkill to require a database to analyze smaller movement datasets. Wouldn’t it be great to have a pure Python solution?

If we look into moving object data literature, beyond the “trajectories are points with timestamps” perspective, which is common in GIS, we also encounter the “trajectories are time series with coordinates” perspective. I don’t know about you, but if I hear “time series” and Python, I think Pandas! In the Python Data Science Handbook, Jake VanderPlas writes:

Pandas was developed in the context of financial modeling, so as you might expect, it contains a fairly extensive set of tools for working with dates, times, and time-indexed data.

Of course, time series are one thing, but spatial data handling is another. Lucky for us, this is where GeoPandas comes in. GeoPandas has been around for a while and version 0.4 has been released in June 2018. So far, I haven’t found examples that use GeoPandas to manage movement data, so I’ve set out to give it a shot. My trajectory class uses a GeoDataFrame df for data storage. For visualization purposes, it can be converted to a LineString:

import pandas as pd 
from geopandas import GeoDataFrame
from shapely.geometry import Point, LineString

class Trajectory():
    def __init__(self, id, df, id_col): = id
        self.df = df    
        self.id_col = id_col
    def __str__(self):
        return "Trajectory {1} ({2} to {3}) | Size: {0}".format(
            self.df.geometry.count(),, self.get_start_time(), 
    def get_start_time(self):
        return self.df.index.min()
    def get_end_time(self):
        return self.df.index.max()
    def to_linestring(self):
        return self.make_line(self.df)
    def make_line(self, df):
        if df.size > 1:
            return df.groupby(self.id_col)['geometry'].apply(
                lambda x: LineString(x.tolist())).values[0]
            raise RuntimeError('Dataframe needs at least two points to make line!')

    def get_position_at(self, t):
            return self.df.loc[t]['geometry'][0]
            return self.df.iloc[self.df.index.drop_duplicates().get_loc(
                t, method='nearest')]['geometry']

Of course, this class can be used in stand-alone Python scripts, but it can also be used in QGIS. The following script takes data from a QGIS point layer, creates a GeoDataFrame, and finally generates trajectories. These trajectories can then be added to the map as a line layer.

All we need to do to ensure that our data is ordered by time is to set the GeoDataFrame’s index to the time field. From then on, Pandas takes care of the time series aspects and we can access the index as shown in the Trajectory.get_position_at() function above.

# Get data from a point layer
l = iface.activeLayer()
time_field_name = 't'
trajectory_id_field = 'trajectory_id' 
names = [ for field in l.fields()]
data = []
for feature in l.getFeatures():
    my_dict = {}
    for i, a in enumerate(feature.attributes()):
        my_dict[names[i]] = a
    x = feature.geometry().asPoint().x()
    y = feature.geometry().asPoint().y()

# Create a GeoDataFrame
df = pd.DataFrame(data).set_index(time_field_name)
crs = {'init':} 
geo_df = GeoDataFrame(df, crs=crs)

# Test if spatial functions work

# Create a QGIS layer for trajectory lines
vl = QgsVectorLayer("LineString", "trajectories", "memory")
vl.setCrs( # doesn't stop popup :(
pr = vl.dataProvider()
pr.addAttributes([QgsField("id", QVariant.String)])

df_by_id = dict(tuple(geo_df.groupby(trajectory_id_field)))
trajectories = {}
for key, value in df_by_id.items():
    traj = Trajectory(key, value, trajectory_id_field)
    trajectories[key] = traj
    line = QgsGeometry.fromWkt(traj.to_linestring().wkt)
    f = QgsFeature()


The following screenshot shows this script applied to a sample of the Geolife datasets containing 100 trajectories with a total of 236,776 points. On my notebook, the runtime is approx. 20 seconds.

So far, GeoPandas has proven to be a convenient way to handle time series with coordinates. Trying to implement some trajectory analysis tools will show if it is indeed a promising data structure for trajectories.


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