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Replica is a software program created by Sidwalk Labs, the city-building subsidiary of Alphabet.

OPB PHOTO - A TriMet MAX train glides past Pioneer Courthouse in downtown Portland.For the first time, Portland's transportation planners could get access to the powerful insights companies glean from tracking the location, moment by moment, of millions of cellphone users.

On Wednesday, after little debate, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to approve an agreement between the Portland Bureau of Transportation, TriMet and the regional government Metro to pay for a pilot test of a powerful new program called Replica.

Replica is software tool developed by Sidewalk Labs, the city-building subsidiary of Alphabet, Google's parent company. Piloting it for a year will cost the three government agencies a total of $457,300. After that, agencies can choose to buy a one-year subscription for 12 cents per resident.

The tool is powered by the vast trove of precise location data collected by smartphones and smartphone apps that allow programmers to track the movements of their users. Sidewalk Labs will remix that data with information from the U.S. Census to create what it calls a "synthetic" version of the Portland metro area, populated by 2.3 million virtual people.

It's SimCity, except the imaginary Sims are based on Portland's real demographics and thousands of daily trips to work, school, shopping and the doctor captured by residents' phones.

"It's a full representation: all households, all people, all modes of transportation, the entire street network that people use, the sidewalk network — but all the people are synthetic," said Nick Bowden, who leads the team developing Replica at Sidewalk Labs.

OPB is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. To read the rest of their story, click here.

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