Meet Xiao Cai, a visiting MSc student from University of Tartu

We are happy to introduce Xiao Cai, a geoinformatics MSc student from the University of Tartu. Xiao is visiting the Digital Geography Lab this spring, from February to May 2024, to study the influence of road environments on cyclists’ route choices in Helsinki and finalize his thesis. We had a mini-interview with Xiao to learn more about his previous and future research.

Xiao Cai presenting his research












Who are you, and what is your role at your home university? 

My name is Xiao Cai, with a mixed academic background of urban planning, geoinformatics, and artificial intelligence (AI). I am currently doing a master’s program in Geoinformatics at the University of Tartu and expect to graduate in June this year.

Please introduce your research topic.

I am a big fan of urban informatics with a dedicated focus on AI approaches to uncovering urban mobility mechanisms using emerging geospatial big data. I was exposed to AI methodologies in 2022 by taking a machine learning course, but since then I have been highly motivated to leverage this powerful technique in urban mobility analyses. Up to now, I produced two papers in this regard – the one is to mine the hidden spatiotemporal characteristics of bike-sharing travel patterns using the k-means++ clustering algorithm, and the other one is to examine the non-linear associations of built environments with demographic-specific bike-sharing usage using the gradient boosting decision tree algorithm. In the near future, I would like to explore more possibilities of using AI methodologies (machine learning or neural networks) to understand the hidden patterns of population dynamics and potential causes. I am also looking forward to exploring more big mobility data (e.g., mobile phone data, smartcard data, e-scooter data, taxi data, etc.) as I am always excited when working with data.

Why did you decide to visit the Digital Geography Lab? What are you planning to work on during that time?

I decided to visit the Digital Geography Lab because I found the lab members have done and are doing lots of research projects that exactly match my research interests. Therefore, I believe that I can gain a lot to build my expertise from this visit, and it turns out that I have made a pretty wise decision. The lab atmosphere is quite good, and the lab members are also very supportive. I have two objectives to achieve from this visit. The one is to write my thesis – the topic is related to my second paper as mentioned earlier – and another is to start a new research project on examining relationships between cycling route choices and road environments.

What would you like to discover during your stay in Finland?

I would like to explore urban micro-mobility in Finland by conducting a research project with Helsinki as the study area. Specifically, I hope to understand how road environments affect cyclists’ route choices. For doing so, a non-linear and interaction effect analysis will be done by an explainable regression algorithm in machine learning. I hope the results of this study will provide relevant stakeholders with constructive policy implications for constructing a cycling-friendly city and thus reducing carbon emissions.

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The Digital Geography Lab is an interdisciplinary research team focusing on spatial Big Data analytics for fair and sustainable societies at the University of Helsinki.