Partnering with Grab for Cross-ASEAN Regional Urban Insights
Lead PI:
Kurtis Heimerl

This activity is in response to the NSF Dear Colleague Letter: Supporting Transition of Research into Cities through the US ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations Cities) Smart Cities Partnership (NSF 20-024), in collaboration with the US Department of State. This project will kickstart a new collaborative research agenda between US researchers, international researchers in Singapore and the Philippines, together with Grab Holdings (Grab); Grab operates a platform for services including ride sharing (both car and motorcycle), food and package delivery, and mobile payments across the entire Southeast Asia region, with hundreds of thousands of drivers having ferried more than three billion rides throughout the company’s lifetime. Leveraging Grab’s vast datasets in Indonesia (Jakarta), the Philippines (Manila), and Singapore, and using complementary datasets collected by the researchers, associated cities, or other sources, the team will make use of statistical “big data” analyses to explore, for example, the impact of the gig economy on the health and wellness of passengers, drivers, and other citizens, as well as on the economic security of gig workers.

Grab’s broad scope, crossing regional, national, cultural, religious, rural, and urban boundaries together with wide-ranging services creates an opportunity for engaging with critical social questions relevant across the ASEAN region as well as in cities in the US and globally that rely on the gig economy. Using methods from data science, social network analysis, and natural language processing as well as accompanying in-situ qualitative field investigations, the researchers will engage with Grab drivers and passengers to explore the broader impact of ride sharing in their communities. Specifically, the partners will work towards a set of initial project directions, including (1) the exploration of income mobility on the Grab platform in Manila and Jakarta, (2) the measurement and mitigation of the effects of air pollution on Grab motorcycle taxi drivers and passengers in Jakarta, and (3) the investigation of the efficacy of different driver strategies in Singapore and Manila. These activities will create foundational research and actionable insights into topics that span urban health, international development, poverty alleviation, and the future of work in both the ASEAN region and across the world while also building partnerships for future research throughout the region.

Kurtis Heimerl
Kurtis Heimerl is an associate professor of Computer Science at the University of Washington working on Information and Communication Technology and International Development (ICTD), specifically universal Internet access. Before that, he received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Kurtis cofounded Endaga, which joined Facebook in 2015. He was a recipient of the 2014 MIT “35 under 35” award, the 2018 UW early career Diamond Award, and has won paper awards at CHI, NSDI, COMPASS, ASSETS, PETS, and DySPAN.
Performance Period: 10/01/2020 - 09/30/2024
Institution: University of Washington
Award Number: 2025022