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SHRP 2 Reliability IDEA L15(B) [Completed (IDEA)]

Proximity Information Resources for Special Events

  Project Data
Staff Responsibility: Dr. Inam Jawed
Fiscal Year: 2011

The initial IDEA proposal described the development of a mobile application to assist in management and communications during large events, such as events hosted at the National Mall. The concept was coined PRISM for PRoximity Information System for Mobility during special events. The PRISM team was unified through common experiences while attending special events in the Washington DC area. At these events, critical information related either to health, sanitation (restrooms), first aid, guidance, or mobility (parking, shuttles, and recommended driving routes) were frustratingly difficult to obtain. Many times event specific information such as the program, timetables and navigation of booths and stages were also inconveniently conveyed by event organizers. Stage I of the project consisted of sharing the PRISM concept, and its motivations to a number of potential stakeholders and experts. Through collaboration with this group, the PRISM concept was refined, and revealed that event organizers were similarly frustrated by the lack of objective information about the size and disposition of the crowd attending the event, and by lack of means to communicate with them, particularly in emergency situations. By the completion of Stage I, a number of smartphone applications had emerged to service conference venues, delivering a portion of the event specific information envisioned by the original PRISM concept. Although commercial applications were emerging, a significant market gap was identified for a communication and management system for special events that performed the following functions: 
  -  Measure crowd size, density, and movement. Automated methods to assess crowd metrics are notably absent in the market. 
  -  Transform these crowd metrics data into usable information for event management. A crowd management information stream is a welcome addition to emergency management tools. 
  -  Provide an authorized communication channel for authorities and event managers to communicate to event attendees, particularly in the event of emergencies but could also be used for more venue and program information. 
  -  Ensure that this communication link is robust and fail-safe so that it is available in emergencies even when cellular communications fail.

Based on above findings, the stage II PRISM initiative was realigned to focus effort on the market gaps identified above. Building on the core detection technology developed by Traffax Inc., the PRISM team planned to demonstrate the first two functions identified in the gap analysis: collecting crowd metrics and transforming the base data into a meaningful information stream for event management. The goal was to demonstrate such capability within the remaining time and fiscal constraints of project.

Stage II activities consisted of a number of small data collection experiments and prototype software development that led up to a major demonstration in cooperation with Sakura Matsuri, a cultural festival held annually in Washington, DC in conjunction with the Cherry Blossom Festival. Sakura Matsuri provided a compact venue with crowd densities similar to that of large National Mall events. Typical attendance at the one-day festival is estimated at 30,000 to 60,000; large enough to adequately exercise the Traffax pedestrian monitoring equipment. The Japan American Society of Washington DC (JASW) collaborated with the PRISM team, sharing many of the same needs identified by Stage I collaborators, particularly identifying the need for an objective source of real-time crowd metrics without having to rely on subjective crowd observations and estimates. With the cooperation of the JASW, the team was able to deploy its prototype PRISM system during the one day event and demonstrate many of the key features of the re-focused concept.

The JASW demonstration illustrated a number of capabilities and provided insight into a number of issues. Crowd monitoring was demonstrated using a deployment of 11 portable sensors at strategic locations such as entrances, crossroads, and stages. Data from the sensors was delivered in real-time to a monitoring station and was post-processed for in-depth analysis. Additional data streams from social media (Twitter and Flickr), simulated data streams reflecting the availability of space in nearby parking garages, and the location of a roving medic were integrated into the real-time monitor display. Key findings of the demo included: 
    - Traffax core monitoring technology was able to capture relative volume of pedestrians at entrances as well as at various locations and attractions within the festival. Although sensor range and placement need to be further optimized, the basic sensing capability was affirmed. 
   -  Integrating social media sources such as Twitter and Flickr provided further dimension and color to the real-time monitoring system.
   -  Simulated data feeds for parking capacity and key personnel locations demonstrated extensibility of the system to provide a broad-based event monitoring platform. 
   -  The data architecture relied on a cloud-based information publishing and subscription model that abstracts data integration. This approach minimized application complexity, eased the development of a custom display, and has the potential to greatly enhance reliability.

In depth post-processed data analysis of sensor data provided detailed information on the size, location, and movement patterns of festival attendees. Key accomplishments and findings included: 
  -  The distribution of attendees determined by sensor data agreed favorably with the portions inferred from same-day ticket sales data provided by JASW. 
  -  The estimated sampling rate of attendees was 1.5% to 2.0%. Uncertainty of actual festival attendance, discriminating attendees from passersby, and varying antenna detection characteristics limited the precision of this estimate. 
  -  Detailed trip patterns from the sensor data revealed the time and sequence of visits to various locations and attractions at the festival. Based on this data, the relative attractiveness of various festival locations and attractions was analyzed. 
  -  Attendance patterns such as time of entry, time of exit, and length of stay were extracted from the trip pattern analysis. The data sample was of sufficient density to create an animated simulation of the sampled trips which provided a visual representation of the level of activity at the festival.

The project led to the following conclusions, recommendations and guidance were offered.

  - The basic crowd monitoring capability was demonstrated. Although tweaks and improvements can be made, the essential capacity is available. Enhancements, such as further data analysis and visualizations, which increase the utility of derived information or make such information actionable by potential clients is critical for market success. 
  -  Primary concern is to identify market potential and clients. Sakura Matsuri, proved to be a successful demonstration yet it has limited revenue potential. Large events, commercial real estate, and various other potential niche clients were discussed. 
  -  Current period of reduced capital investments and improvements puts greater emphasis on planning, creating a potential market for use of crowd metrics to show need and justify capital spending. 
  -  Customized applications to be used at special events or in other potential markets, will require expertise within the respective industry, emphasizing the need to collaborate and partner with prospective clients.

A strategic business plan was developed that targeted at creating industry specific products in partnership with identified partners/clients. The plan allows for incremental development and investment to minimize risk as market potential is fully understood. Primary commercialization risk is not technology, but monetization of the product and service. Although a clear need exists for large events, it is unclear whether existing event budgets are adequate to drive the market. Complimentary markets such as public / private sector capital planning analysis, pedestrian behavior studies associated with commercial real estate, and pedestrian monitoring for transit agencies may be viable markets.

In order to clearly articulate the the PRISM concept the research team invested in the production of a short video that captures intent of the system, as well as the results of the demonstration. Readers are encouraged to review the video which is made available online at
https://www.box.com/s/51bnickn2sscfxp4glib.

The contractor's report is available.  

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