Programming with a move2 object

Structure of the move2 object


To be able to expand and use the object in move2 it is important to understand how the objects is structured. Here we explain some of the choices and explain the requirements.

A move object in move2 uses the S3 class system, this is less rigors then the S4 system that was used in the original move package. The objects are based on the sf objects from the sf package. This change is inspired by several factors, first by basing on sf we are able to profit from the speed and improvements that went into that package, second it makes it directly compatible with a lot of dplyr/tidyverse based functionality. To ensure information specific to movement is retrained we use attributes. This is in a fairly similar style to sf.

To facilitate working with the associated sensor data we store other records with an empty point. This means, for example, acceleration and activity measurements can be part of the same tbl/data.frame.

The sf package and sf in general allow to store coordinates as three dimensional records. As the altitude of tracking devices is typically much less accurate, few functions actually support this functionality we do not use it at this time.

In the move package we implemented separate objects for one single individuals (Move) and multiple individuals (MoveStack). Here we choose to not do this. This reduces complexity. If functions require single individuals to work it is easy enough to split these of.

Event data

Tracking data generally consists of a time series of observations from a range of “sensors”. Each of these observation or events at least have a time and a sensor associated with them. Some have a location recorded by, for example, a gps sensor other have non locations data like acceleration or gyroscope measurements. All events are combined in one large dataset, this facilitates combined analysis between them (e.g. interpolation to the position of an acceleration measurement). However for some analysis specific sensors or data types will be needed therefore filtering functions are available that subset the data to, for example, all location data.

Separating track attributes

To facilitate working with the trajectories we distinguish between track attributes and event attributes. Track level data could be individual and species names, sex and age. This can furthermore greatly facilitate object sizes as that is not duplicated. Keeping track attributes separate also contributes to data integrity as ensures track level attributes are consistent within a track.


In this section we go through the attributes that move2 uses.


This attributes should contain a string with a length of 1. This string indicates in which column the timestamp information of the locations in it. The string should thus be an existing column. The time column in most cases will contain timestamps in the POSIXct format. In some cases timestamps will not be referring to an exact time point. For example when simulating movement data or analysis from a video. In these cases times can also be stored as integer or numeric values.


This attribute should contain a string of length 1. A column with this name should be contained both in the track_data attribute and in the main dataset. This column also functions as the link between the track_data and the main data, linking the individual attributes to the individual data.


This dataset contains the track level data. Properties of the individual follows (e.g. sex, age and name) can be stored here. Additionally other deployment level information can be contained. As the move2 package does not separate individuals, tags and deployments. All information from these 3 entities in movebank are combined here.

Special columns


Using the time_column attribute this column can be identified, for quick retrieval there is the mt_time function. Values should be either timestamps (e.g. POSIXct, Date) or numeric. Numeric values are facilitated as it can be useful for simulation, videos and laboratory experiments were absolute time reference is not available or relevant.


This column is identified by the track_id_column attributes, values can either be a character, factor or integer like values. For retrieval there is the mt_track_id function.

General considerations

Quality checking

In move relatively stringent quality checking was done on the object. This enforced certain attributes for a trajectory that are sensible but in practice are not always adhered to. Some of these properties are:

  • Every record had a valid location (except for unUsedRecords but those were rarely used)

  • Records were time ordered within individual

  • All individuals were ordered

  • Timestamps could not be duplicated.

Even though these are some useful properties for subsequent work when reading not all data adheres to these standards. To solve this there were options to remove duplicated records but these simply took the first record. Here we take a more permissive approach where less stringent checking is done on the input side. This means functions working with move2 need to ensure input data adheres to their expectations. To facilitate that several assertion functions are provided that can quickly check data. Taking this approach gives the users more flexibility in resolving inconsistencies within R. We provide several functions to make this work quick. For specific use cases more informed functions can be developed.

If you are writing functions based on the move2 package and your function assumes a specific data structure this can best be checked with assert_that in combination with one of the assertion functions. This construct results in informative error messages:

data <- mt_sim_brownian_motion(1:3)[c(1, 3, 2, 6, 4, 5), ]
#> Error: Not all timestamps in `data` are ordered within track.
#> ℹ It is required that all subsequent records have an equal or later timestamps.
#> ℹ The first offending record is of track: 1 at time: 3 (record: 2), the next record
#>   has an earlier timestamp.

Function naming schemes

To facilitate finding functions and assist in recognizably we use a prefix. For functions relating to movement trajectories we use mt_, similar to how the sf package uses st_ for spatial type. This prefix has the advantage of being short compared to move_. Functions for accessing data from movebank use the prefix movebank_. Furthermore do all assertions functions start with either mt_is_ or mt_has_.

Return type segment wise properties

When analyzing trajectories frequently metrics are calculated that are properties of the time period in between two observations. Prime examples are the distance and speed between locations. This means that for each track with a length of \(n\) locations there are \(n-1\) measurements. To facilitate storing and processing this data we pad each track with a NA value at the end. This ensured that return vectors from functions like mt_distance, mt_speed and mt_azimuth return vectors with the same length of as the number of rows in the move2 object. If the return values from these kind of functions are assigned to the move2 object the properties stored in the first row reflect the value for the interval between the first and second row.

Some metrics are calculated as a function of the segment before and after a segment (e.g. turn angles). In these cases the return vectors still have the same length however they are padded by a NA value at the beginning and end of each track so that the metric is stored with the location it is representative for.

Data size

Data sets have been growing considerably over the past decade since move was written. The ambition with move2 is to facilitate this trend. It should work smoothly with trajectories of more then a million records. We have successfully loaded up to 30 million events into R, however at some stage memory limitations of the host computer start being a concern. This can to some extent be alleviated by omitting unnecessary columns from the data set, either at download or when reading the data. An alternative approach would be to facilitate working with trajectories on disk or within a database (alike dbplyr). However since many functions and packages we rely on do not support this, we opt not to do this. Therefore, if reducing the data loaded does not solve the problem, it can be advisable to use a computer with more memory or when possible split up analysis per track.

Function overview

Here we first a quick overview of the most important function.

Extracting information from a move2 object

Transforming other classes to a move2 object

Transforming a move2 object into other classes

Useful functions

All functions of the move2 package are described here.