All posts by Asad Syed

Coming from an Engineering and Technical background, I am an expert in Video Analytical systems, including tracking systems to provide critical Key Performance Indicator data for major clients across the world. I've been involved with footfall monitoring and associated topics for over ten years and am happy to advise anyone interested about counting people, queue management, passenger counting and related features.

Counting in the Smart City: Pedestrians, Bicycles and Vehicles

Smart Cities have the power to provide data about what’s going on in a number of unprecedented ways. They change the way we can understand, manage and study cities. People can be better engaged when they have access to more information about their city.

What is a Smart City?

A smart city installs sensors which can share information with the public, businesses, city managers and other sensor systems. The city connects its sensors and services via the internet of things. The different sensor systems store their information in a common data warehouse and make it available to those who need it.

How it helps make Cities Better Places to Live

To effectively serve people it helps if the city authorities know how many people are going where and when. The flow of pedestrians affects the whole city environment. It is important to know not just the numbers of people but also how the numbers change over time.

An accurate people metering system provides feedback on changes in people’s behaviour within the city and allows the council to effectively manage the flow of people, vehicles and bicycles around the area. This is also known as smart mobility.

counting bicyclists in the smart city

Retail Sensing and the Internet of Things Smart City Sensors

Retail Sensing are a UK-based technology manufacturing company. Our head office is in Manchester.

Our Internet of Things Smart City device uses our own video analytics algorithm to detect pedestrians and vehicles, together with data logging hardware and Internet-of-Things connectivity.

The ISO9001 quality approved system is implemented around the city and sends real time data to “Brokers”. The brokers process the data and makes it available to all end users.

Urban Sensing

Counting Pedestrians

In the high streets and city centres, the Smart Counter (Pi VT) counts people. It provides both real-time and historical data for “Big Data” analytics.

It can also be used within individual retail units to discover vital analytics like sales conversion rate, average queuing time and the most popular area of a store. This demonstrates in a practical way the city’s commitment to retail on the high street.

The Smart Counters are attached to lampposts around the city.

Counting Bicycles

The Smart Counter can also be used to count bicycles. This helps monitor and support the promotion of healthy travelling and gives a measure of how green or pollution-free areas are within a city centre.

Counting Vehicles

Smart Counts accurately count cars down roads and at junctions. Councils can effectively manage the flow of traffic along the busiest routes across the city and monitor the days and times of the heaviest flow.

Combining the Counts and Scoring Effectiveness of Smart City Projects

The Internet-of-Things data provided helps quantify the use of footpaths and cycle ways. It shows the use of roads, including commuter routes around schools and major routes through the city centre. This can help score the effectiveness of Smart City projects such as City Verve, which aims to build and deliver a smarter, more connected Manchester. Creating a city that uses technology to meet the complex needs of its people.

From a health perspective the Pi VT Smart Counter provides Smart City data to monitor the effectiveness of sports activity, events and jogging routes within parks.

Counting on Public Transport

The Smart Counters are not just being used around the city streets. Buses, trains and trams can also benefit.

Counting Passengers on Buses

Transport authorities can know the numbers of people arriving by bus at various points in the city, by time of day. The data helps revenue protection – reconciling tickets bought with passenger numbers. It also enables effective fleet bus management with services around the city centre. With real-time GPS location of buses, it gives a clear picture of what is going on.

Counting the users of Trains and Trams

Monitoring the numbers of people arriving on platforms again provides vital information on the use of routes by time of day.

The Smart Cities of the not-too-distant Future

We’ve given a taste of just a few of the benefits of the Smart City.

A city is not just about streets, buildings and buses. Nor is it just about giving cutting-edge connectivity to sensors and devices, and the Internet of Things. It isn’t about “things” at all. It’s about people. And how their lives can be made better in order to keep the heart of the city beating.

The data is there for whoever needs or wants it. Enabling clever solutions to urban problems.

98% Footfall and occupancy accuracy for exhibition centre

The Business Design Centre (BDC) – London’s conference and exhibition venue – has increased the accuracy of its footfall and occupancy monitoring by switching to a video system from Retail Sensing.

Previously the BDC used infra-red beam breakers to count people. We set up a week’s trial of our Video Turnstile system, so the company could compare the accuracy of the CCTV set-up against the infra-red beams. Following live video verification, the Video Turnstile system was proved to reach an accuracy of 98% across the full entrance to the conference building. The Business Design Centre duly installed the video counters to provide real-time occupancy and footfall figures.

The occupancy count is accessible to all members of staff. By logging into a BDC Head Office computer any employee can see how many people are in the building at the moment.

The Video Turnstile real-time count and footfall data is now helping the Business Design Centre to run much more efficiently and be critically managed to get the optimum use of the centre.

For more information contact Asad Syed.

Counting “Hot Air” Balloon Passengers

Some months back we had an enquiry from an unusual source – a “hot air” balloon manufacturer. They wanted to automatically count the people who were taken up in the balloon.

This wasn’t a hot air balloon that travels across the countryside. It wasn’t even filled with hot air. Helium provides the lift and the balloon is tethered to the ground. It transports 30 passengers 150 m up into the air where they can enjoy wide-reaching views.

We invited the company to our premises in Manchester to see the Retail Sensing people counting system for themselves. They were impressed by what they saw, and we in turn visited their company to look at the best way to install the equipment.

The reason for counting balloon passengers was to compare the number of tickets issued with the number of people who actually got on. The normal ride is 15 minutes and the typical passenger throughput is 100 per hour. Hence, on a good day over 1000 passengers can ascend.

We installed a Retail Sensing system on the balloon’s walk-in grantry. A camera detects people getting on and off, and an intelligent counting unit regularly sends data wirelessly to a laptop. The time of each batch of counts is recorded and counts are verified simply by watching the video.

For more information contact Asad Syed.

Photo copyright Derek Harper, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Eight things to consider when choosing a person counting system

You’ve decided you want to count people: perhaps to monitor occupancy or calculate sales conversion. But which type of person counting system to choose? There are several options, the most common being:

  • video person counting,
  • thermal sensors,
  • infra-red beams,
  • hand-held tally counters.

Which you choose depends on your priorities, which will
probaby include:

  1. Accuracy
  2. Verifiability
  3. Flexibility
  4. Directional or non-directional
  5. Reporting
  6. Cost
  7. Technical Support
  8. Risk-Free Trial

1. Accuracy

The best performing systems achieve over 98% accuracy. Make sure though that the accuracy quoted on the manufacturers’ web sites is not just that for perfect conditions. Will the system meet your accuracy needs in your specific environment?

People Counting Camera

The most accurate systems are the video person counters. Here software analyses CCTV pictures and detects people crossing a counting zone. These systems can exceed 98% accuracy.

Next are the thermal sensors. Positioned above an entrance, they identify people by meaasuring their body heat. Quoted accuracies are between 96 and 98%. Accuracy, though, can be affected by the ambient temperature within the counting area being above or below a certain value. Low ceilings can also reduce the accuracy.

With infra-red beam systems, a sensor sends a beam to a reflector on the the opposite side of the doorway. When someone passes through, the beam breaks and a person is counted. These were in demand some years ago – now managers generally demand a higher accuracy and more comprehensive information to be collected. Additionally, accuracy tends to decrease with wide or usy entrances. If two people cross a beam together, for instance, only one count will be recorded. Direct sunlight onto the beam will also affect the system. Difficult conditions can bring accuracy down to 80%.

Handheld tally counter

Hand-held tally counters are the least sophisticated of solutions. A person stands clicking the tally counter whenever anyone passes through the entrance. This may be acceptable for a one-off person counting excercise, but is obviously unsuited to continuous monitoring. Accuracy depends on the people holding the tally counters. Tally counters were once used in nightclubs and bars to monitor occupancy, but are now being replaced by automatic counting systems.

2. Verifiability

How easy is it to confirm the accuracy? With video counting systems you can watch the video to confirm the counts are accurate.

3. Flexibility

Check that your chosen solution is configurable for all the different situations in which you want to count, not only now but for possible future applications. Find out if there is any limit to the size of the people-counting systems you are considering. Can they be easily scaled up for future premises and locations? Will you want to integrate your people counts with your point-of-sale system. Can the counting system also be used for queue monitoring or mapping hotspots of most visited areas?

4. Directional or Non-Directional

Do you need to count people going in and out? The video and thermal counters do this automatically. Some infra-red beam systems rely on you dividing the count by two, although the more expensive beam counters are directional.

5. Reporting

Do you need direct access to your data? How often? Some companies keep hold of your data and just send you reports. Others give you full access to all data so you can analyse it as you wish.

Consider also the time interval over which you want to count. Do you require the count per week, per day, per hour, per half-hour, in real-time?

If you want to see your own data – in what format do you want it? MySQL, xml, text…?

footfall chart

How is the data distributed: centrally at a head office PC, locally, or both? Can authorised users grab it at any time from anywhere in the world?

Just some of the questions you need to be asking yourself when specifying a system.

6. Cost

How much is a system going to cost? Consider initial cost, future expansion, installation, technical support, any on-going charges.

The cheapest option is the hand-held tally counter but this is not suitable for detailed analysis. Also, you need to take into account the cost of employing someone to stand there clicking the counter all day.

Next cheapest is in the non-directional infra-red beam system, followed by the directional beam counters.

The most expensive systems tend to be the thermal imaging. Like the video counters, they have installation costs. However, the thermal counter has a lower field view than video counters and you may need more thermal units to cover the same width of entrance or counting zone.

Find out how much a video person counting system costs.

7. Technical Support

Ask your potential suppliers about their technical support policy. Make sure you will receive after-sales help should you need it.

8. Risk-Free Trial System

Finally, whichever system from whichever manufacturer you choose you should ask for a trial installation to check it suits your requirements. Your chosen supplier should be happy to arrange this. So a retail chain might ask for the system to installed in just one shop before rolling out to the rest of the chain. This way you can be confident you are making the right decision before committing widescale installation.

Essential planning for footfall analytics

Footfall analytics provide empowering information, but a successful system needs diverse members of an organisation to buy into it. You need to bring together different groups and ask what analytics they need to make informed decisions.

You might find that the Marketing department wants sales conversion figures, where visitor counts are linked to point-of-sale (POS) data. Customer services may be more interested in queue lengths and times. Other decision-makers may want to know the path people take through a building. Some employees might want nothing to do with the system, seeing threats rather than opportunities.

Footfall chart

Comparing footfall

When all concerned have expressed their wishes and concerns, you should have a detailed picture of what you want to achieve. This will tell your systems integrator exactly what is needed. They will then know where cameras are needed, the live data to provide, when to integrate with existing systems, how information is to be shared and so on.

Bringing everyone together at the beginning makes for a much stronger brief and a healthy debate on which key performance indicators should be measured.

The next stage is to install a pilot system in just one room or store, and to decide how you will measure its success.

Accuracy of course is the primary measurement for the trial system. After this – are all the requirements you set out fulfilled? Are the analytics available as you expected? Are the staff on-board and happy about the new information to which they have access, or are there any unforeseen problems to be addressed? Has the system fulfilled its aims – whether it be increasing sales, improving the visitor experience or reducing costs?

Only once the test installation is a success should it be rolled out further.

If you want our advice about planning a people counting system – call +44 (0)161 839 6437

Ski resort counts visitors with an unrivalled 99% accuracy

Manchester’s premier leisure attraction, indoor ski resort The Chill Factore, improve their business decisions with visitor count data. Recent tests to check the accuracy of the people counting system, validated the performance to an exceptional 99%.

Counting visitors to the Chill Factore

When we first installed the system, the Chill Factore just wanted to monitor footfall across the main entrances into the venue and store the data centrally on their server. They could analyse the data as they wished and integrate the footfall counts with their existing database of key performance indicators (KPIs).

Chill Factore soon found that the information generated through the video counting system helped them run the ski resort more effectively and efficiently. For instance, it contributes to:

  • Effectively scheduling staff;
  • Monitoring and analysing footfall trends throughout the year;
  • Analysing and benchmarking footfall into the venue during special events;
  • Verifying successful promotional and marketing strategies;
  • Justifying rents charged to shops within the venue;
  • Monitoring and benchmarking key performance indicators like sales conversions;
  • Comparing the visitor counts with tickets issued for skiing events.

If they wished the Chill Factore could also use their system to monitor queues, display occupancy and create heat maps of most and least used areas.

The visitor counting system uses CCTV cameras and intelligent people counting units running video analytics software. Managers who are equipped with the secure log-on details can remotely control and configure the units from any internet-enabled computer. Wide entrances and areas are handled by linking several cameras across the ceiling.

The counts are easily validated by watching videos of the counting zones.

About the Chill Factore

Chill Factore is the UK’s longest indoor skiing and snowboarding slope. As well as skiing, the complex has a climbing wall, children’s play area, bars, cafés, restaurants and shops, employing around 250 people in total. In its first five years it attracted more than three million visitors.

For more information on visitor counting in the leisure industry contact Asad Syed.

Photo credit: Janet Ramsden, (CC BY 2.0)