Movement data in GIS

In the previous post, we — creatively ;-) — used MobilityDB to visualize stationary IOT sensor measurements.

This post covers the more obvious use case of visualizing trajectories. Thus bringing together the MobilityDB trajectories created in Detecting close encounters using MobilityDB 1.0 and visualization using Temporal Controller.

Like in the previous post, the valueAtTimestamp function does the heavy lifting. This time, we also apply it to the geometry time series column called trip:

SELECT mmsi,
    valueAtTimestamp(trip, '2017-05-07 08:55:40') geom,
    valueAtTimestamp(SOG, '2017-05-07 08:55:40') SOG
FROM "public"."ships"

Using this SQL query, we again set up a — not yet Temporal Controller-controlled — QueryLayer.

To configure Temporal Controller to update the timestamp in our SQL query, we again need to run the Python script from the previous post.

With this done, we are all set up to animate and explore the movement patterns in our dataset:

This post is part of a series. Read more about movement data in GIS.

It’s been a while since we last talked about MobilityDB in 2019 and 2020. Since then, the project has come a long way. It joined OSGeo as a community project and formed a first PSC, including the project founders Mahmoud Sakr and Esteban Zimányi as well as Vicky Vergara (of pgRouting fame) and yours truly.

This post is a quick teaser tutorial from zero to computing closest points of approach (CPAs) between trajectories using MobilityDB.

Setting up MobilityDB with Docker

The easiest way to get started with MobilityDB is to use the ready-made Docker container provided by the project. I’m using Docker and WSL (Windows Subsystem Linux on Windows 10) here. Installing WLS/Docker is out of scope of this post. Please refer to the official documentation for your operating system.

Once Docker is ready, we can pull the official container and fire it up:

docker pull mobilitydb/mobilitydb
docker volume create mobilitydb_data
docker run --name "mobilitydb" -d -p 25432:5432 -v mobilitydb_data:/var/lib/postgresql mobilitydb/mobilitydb
psql -h localhost -p 25432 -d mobilitydb -U docker

Currently, the container provides PostGIS 3.2 and MobilityDB 1.0:

Loading movement data into MobilityDB

Once the container is running, we can already connect to it from QGIS. This is my preferred way to load data into MobilityDB because we can simply drag-and-drop any timestamped point layer into the database:

For this post, I’m using an AIS data sample in the region of Gothenburg, Sweden.

After loading this data into a new table called ais, it is necessary to remove duplicate and convert timestamps:

FROM ais;

ALTER TABLE AISInputFiltered ADD COLUMN t timestamp;
UPDATE AISInputFiltered SET t = "Timestamp"::timestamp;

Afterwards, we can create the MobilityDB trajectories:

tgeompoint_seq(array_agg(tgeompoint_inst(Geom, t) ORDER BY t)) AS Trip,
tfloat_seq(array_agg(tfloat_inst("SOG", t) ORDER BY t) FILTER (WHERE "SOG" IS NOT NULL) ) AS SOG,
tfloat_seq(array_agg(tfloat_inst("COG", t) ORDER BY t) FILTER (WHERE "COG" IS NOT NULL) ) AS COG
FROM AISInputFiltered

ALTER TABLE Ships ADD COLUMN Traj geometry;
UPDATE Ships SET Traj = trajectory(Trip);

Once this is done, we can load the resulting Ships layer and the trajectories will be loaded as lines:

Computing closest points of approach

To compute the closest point of approach between two moving objects, MobilityDB provides a shortestLine function. To be correct, this function computes the line connecting the nearest approach point between the two tgeompoint_seq. In addition, we can use the time-weighted average function twavg to compute representative average movement speeds and eliminate stationary or very slowly moving objects:

SELECT S1.MMSI mmsi1, S2.MMSI mmsi2, 
       shortestLine(S1.trip, S2.trip) Approach,
       ST_Length(shortestLine(S1.trip, S2.trip)) distance
FROM Ships S1, Ships S2
twavg(S1.SOG) > 1 AND twavg(S2.SOG) > 1 AND
dwithin(S1.trip, S2.trip, 0.003)

In the QGIS Browser panel, we can right-click the MobilityDB connection to bring up an SQL input using Execute SQL:

The resulting query layer shows where moving objects get close to each other:

To better see what’s going on, we’ll look at individual CPAs:

Having a closer look with the Temporal Controller

Since our filtered AIS layer has proper timestamps, we can animate it using the Temporal Controller. This enables us to replay the movement and see what was going on in a certain time frame.

I let the animation run and stopped it once I spotted a close encounter. Looking at the AIS points and the shortest line, we can see that MobilityDB computed the CPAs along the trajectories:

A more targeted way to investigate a specific CPA is to use the Temporal Controllers’ fixed temporal range mode to jump to a specific time frame. This is helpful if we already know the time frame we are interested in. For the CPA use case, this means that we can look up the timestamp of a nearby AIS position and set up the Temporal Controller accordingly:


I hope you enjoyed this quick dive into MobilityDB. For more details, including talks by the project founders, check out the project website.

This post is part of a series. Read more about movement data in GIS.

First time, we talked about the OGC Moving Features standard in a post from 2017. Back then, we looked at the proposed standard way to encode trajectories in CSV and discussed its issues. Since then, the Moving Features working group at OGC has not been idle. Besides the CSV and XML encodings, they have designed a new JSON encoding that addresses many of the downsides of the previous two. You can read more about this in our 2020 preprint “From Simple Features to Moving Features and Beyond”.

Basically Moving Features JSON (MF-JSON) is heavily inspired by GeoJSON and it comes with a bunch of mandatory and optional key/value pairs. There is support for static properties as well as dynamic temporal properties and, of course, temporal geometries (yes geometries, not just points).

I think this format may have an actual chance of gaining more widespread adoption.

Image source:

Inspired by Pandas.read_csv() and GeoPandas.read_file(), I’ve started implementing a read_mf_json() function in MovingPandas. So far, it supports basic MovingFeature JSONs with MovingPoint geometry:

You’ll need to use the current development version to test this feature.

Next steps will be MovingFeatureCollection JSONs and support for static as well as temporal properties. We’ll have to see if MovingPandas can be extended to go beyond moving point geometries. Storing moving linestrings and polygons in the GeoDataFrame will be the simple part but analytics and visualization will certainly be more tricky.

This post is part of a series. Read more about movement data in GIS.

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure to speak at SystemX’s seminar series. The talk features a live demonstration of my protocol for exploring movement data, powered by Jupyter, Pandas, Holoviews, Datashader, GeoPandas, and MovingPandas. So if you haven’t read the paper yet, here’s the chance to watch the talk version:

This post is part of a series. Read more about movement data in GIS.

In the last few days, there’s been a sharp rise in interest in vessel movements, and particularly, in understanding where and why vessels stop. Following the grounding of Ever Given in the Suez Canal, satellite images and vessel tracking data (AIS) visualizations are everywhere:

Using movement data analytics tools, such as MovingPandas, we can dig deeper and explore patterns in the data.

The MovingPandas.TrajectoryStopDetector is particularly useful in this situation. We can provide it with a Trajectory or TrajectoryCollection and let it detect all stops, that is, instances were the moving object stayed within a certain area (with a diameter of 1000m in this example) for a an extended duration (at least 3 hours).

stops = mpd.TrajectoryStopDetector(trajs).get_stop_segments(
    min_duration=timedelta(hours=3), max_diameter=1000)

The resulting stop segments include spatial and temporal information about the stop location and duration. To make this info more easily accessible, let’s turn the stop segment TrajectoryCollection into a point GeoDataFrame:

stop_pts = gpd.GeoDataFrame(columns=['geometry']).set_geometry('geometry')
stop_pts['stop_id'] = [ for track in stops.trajectories]
stop_pts= stop_pts.set_index('stop_id')

for stop in stops:[, 'ID'] = stop.df['ID'][0][, 'datetime'] = stop.get_start_time()[, 'duration_h'] = stop.get_duration().total_seconds()/3600[, 'geometry'] = stop.get_start_location()

Indeed, I think the next version of MovingPandas should include a function that directly returns stops as points.

Now we can explore the stop information. For example, the map plot shows that stops are concentrated in three main areas: the northern and southern ends of the Canal, as well as the Great Bitter Lake in the middle. By looking at the timing of stops and their duration in a scatter plot, we can clearly see that the Ever Given stop (red) caused a chain reaction: the numerous points lining up on the diagonal of the scatter plot represent stops that very likely are results of the blockage:

Before the grounding, the stop distribution nicely illustrates the canal schedule. Vessels have to wait until it’s turn for their direction to go through:

You can see the full analysis workflow in the following video. Please turn on the captions for details.

Huge thanks to VesselsValue for supplying the data!

For another example of MovingPandas‘ stop dectection in action, have a look at Bryan R. Vallejo’s tutorial on detecting stops in bird tracking data which includes some awesome visualizations using KeplerGL:

Kepler.GL visualization by Bryan R. Vallejo

This post is part of a series. Read more about movement data in GIS.

After writing “Towards a template for exploring movement data” last year, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to develop a solid approach for movement data exploration that would help analysts and scientists to better understand their datasets. Finally, my search led me to the excellent paper “A protocol for data exploration to avoid common statistical problems” by Zuur et al. (2010). What they had done for the analysis of common ecological datasets was very close to what I was trying to achieve for movement data. I followed Zuur et al.’s approach of a exploratory data analysis (EDA) protocol and combined it with a typology of movement data quality problems building on Andrienko et al. (2016). Finally, I brought it all together in a Jupyter notebook implementation which you can now find on Github.

There are two options for running the notebook:

  1. The repo contains a Dockerfile you can use to spin up a container including all necessary datasets and a fitting Python environment.
  2. Alternatively, you can download the datasets manually and set up the Python environment using the provided environment.yml file.

The dataset contains over 10 million location records. Most visualizations are based on Holoviz Datashader with a sprinkling of MovingPandas for visualizing individual trajectories.

Point density map of 10 million location records, visualized using Datashader

Line density map for detecting gaps in tracks, visualized using Datashader

Example trajectory with strong jitter, visualized using MovingPandas & GeoViews


I hope this reference implementation will provide a starting point for many others who are working with movement data and who want to structure their data exploration workflow.

If you want to dive deeper, here’s the paper:

[1] Graser, A. (2021). An exploratory data analysis protocol for identifying problems in continuous movement data. Journal of Location Based Services. doi:10.1080/17489725.2021.1900612.

(If you don’t have institutional access to the journal, the publisher provides 50 free copies using this link. Once those are used up, just leave a comment below and I can email you a copy.)


This post is part of a series. Read more about movement data in GIS.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to speak at the RGS-IBG GIScience Research Group seminar. The talk presents methods for the exploration of movement patterns in massive quasi-continuous GPS tracking datasets containing billions of records using distributed computing approaches.

Here’s the full recording of my talk and follow-up discussion:

and slides are available as well.

This post is part of a series. Read more about movement data in GIS.

Last October, I had the pleasure to speak at the Uni Liverpool’s Geographic Data Science Lab Brown Bag Seminar. The talk starts with examples from different movement datasets that illustrate why we need data exploration to better understand our datasets. Then we dive into different options for exploring movement data before ending on ongoing challenges for future development of the field.

Here’s the full recording of my talk and follow-up discussion:

This post is part of a series. Read more about movement data in GIS.

To explore travel patterns like origin-destination relationships, we need to identify individual trips with their start/end locations and trajectories between them. Extracting these trajectories from large datasets can be challenging, particularly if the records of individual moving objects don’t fit into memory anymore and if the spatial and temporal extent varies widely (as is the case with ship data, where individual vessel journeys can take weeks while crossing multiple oceans). 

This is part 2 of “Exploring massive movement datasets”.

Roughly speaking, trip trajectories can be generated by first connecting consecutive records into continuous tracks and then splitting them at stops. This general approach applies to many different movement datasets. However, the processing details (e.g. stop detection parameters) and preprocessing steps (e.g. removing outliers) vary depending on input dataset characteristics.

For example, in our paper [1], we extracted vessel journeys from AIS data which meant that we also had to account for observation gaps when ships leave the observable (usually coastal) areas. In the accompanying 10-minute talk, I went through a 4-step trajectory exploration workflow for assessing our dataset’s potential for travel time prediction:

Click to watch the recorded talk

Like the M³ prototype computation presented in part 1, our trajectory aggregation approach is implemented in Spark. The challenges are both the massive amounts of trajectory data and the fact that operations only produce correct results if applied to a complete and chronologically sorted set of location records.This is challenging because Spark core libraries (version 2.4.5 at the time) are mostly geared towards dealing with unsorted data. This means that, when using high-level Spark core functionality incorrectly, an aggregator needs to collect and sort the entire track in the main memory of a single processing node. Consequently, when dealing with large datasets, out-of-memory errors are frequently encountered.

To solve this challenge, our implementation is based on the Secondary Sort pattern and on Spark’s aggregator concept. Secondary Sort takes care to first group records by a key (e.g. the moving object id), and only in the second step, when iterating over the records of a group, the records are sorted (e.g. chronologically). The resulting iterator can be used by an aggregator that implements the logic required to build trajectories based on gaps and stops detected in the dataset.

If you want to dive deeper, here’s the full paper:

[1] Graser, A., Dragaschnig, M., Widhalm, P., Koller, H., & Brändle, N. (2020). Exploratory Trajectory Analysis for Massive Historical AIS Datasets. In: 21st IEEE International Conference on Mobile Data Management (MDM) 2020. doi:10.1109/MDM48529.2020.00059

This post is part of a series. Read more about movement data in GIS.

QGIS Temporal Controller is a powerful successor of TimeManager. Temporal Controller is a new core feature of the current development version and will be shipped with the 3.14 release. This post demonstrates two key advantages of this new temporal support:

  1. Expression support for defining start and end timestamps
  2. Integration into the PyQGIS API

These features come in very handy in many use cases. For example, they make it much easier to create animations from folders full of GPS tracks since the files can now be loaded and configured automatically:

Script & Temporal Controller in action (click for full resolution)

All tracks start at the same location but at different times. (Kudos for Andrew Fletcher for recordings these tracks and sharing them with me!) To create an animation that shows all tracks start simultaneously, we need to synchronize them. This synchronization can be achieved on-the-fly by subtracting the start time from all track timestamps using an expression:

directory = "E:/Google Drive/QGIS_Course/05_TimeManager/Example_Dayrides/"

def load_and_configure(filename):
    path = os.path.join(directory, filename)
    uri = 'file:///' + path + "?type=csv&escape=&useHeader=No&detectTypes=yes"
    uri = uri + "&crs=EPSG:4326&xField=field_3&yField=field_2"
    vlayer = QgsVectorLayer(uri, filename, "delimitedtext")

    mode = QgsVectorLayerTemporalProperties.ModeFeatureDateTimeStartAndEndFromExpressions
    expression = """to_datetime(field_1) -

    tprops = vlayer.temporalProperties()
    tprops.setEndExpression(expression) # optional

for filename in os.listdir(directory):
    if filename.endswith(".csv"):

The above script loads all CSV files from the given directory (field_1 is the timestamp, field_2 is y, and field_3 is x), enables sets the start and end expression as well as the corresponding temporal control mode and finally activates temporal rendering. The resulting config can be verified in the layer properties dialog:

To adapt this script to other datasets, it’s sufficient to change the file directory and revisit the layer uri definition as well as the field names referenced in the expression.

This post is part of a series. Read more about movement data in GIS.

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