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Sara Stace on how to get really clever people movement data  

Imagine a street that tells a driver to slow down because there’s a bunch of rowdy people on the road. Here’s what Sara Stace has been working on.

The unpredictable “ant-like” activity of pedestrians and cyclists is difficult to map accurately using traditional movement mapping tools, Super Loci founder Sara Stace told The Fifth Estate.

This is a problem Ms Stace set out to solve by setting up Super Loci, an analytics platform that provides insights about the movement of people, bicycles and vehicles in public spaces.

She said that all existing methods of mapping movement have issues with reliability and accuracy.

“They assume traffic moves in a certain way. Pedestrians don’t move like that. They move like ants. Traditional counting doesn’t capture this,” she said. 

For example, laser counting only registers that something has moved past it. This makes it impossible to tell if it’s a human, pet, or something else.

WiFi mapping also has its limitations. For instance, if someone is carrying two connected devices they will be counted twice. It also doesn’t pick up children or elderly citizens who don’t carry phones, which according to Ms Stace leaves the most vulnerable road users out of the picture.

By combining and enhancing existing technologies, the new platform increases the sample size, improves efficiency, and provides ongoing and real time data to decision makers, consultants and designers of public spaces.

The platform is far less labour-intensive than most traditional methods of mapping movement in public spaces. Users upload video footage of the location for analysis through the company’s computer vision software, which processes the video and presents the findings in an analytics dashboard.

The computer vision software automatically recognises pedestrians and bike riders, and maps their location on a street map. It can track how long they spend in that space (if they are lingering and enjoying the places, or rushing through) and can detect whether they’re a child, adult or senior, in a wheelchair or riding a bike.

The potential applications of the software are far-reaching, Ms Stace said, and still emerging because the technology is so new.

For example, it could be used to change the phasing of traffic lights where there are large numbers of pedestrians waiting to cross.

The platform may even influence how driverless vehicles interact with pedestrians and other modes of transport in the future.

Ms Stace said that most research on autonomous vehicles focuses on the car’s ability to detect people and other objects. But her company is currently exploring a reverse system where the street instructs the vehicles. In this system, the street would be able to tell the car to slow down when it approaches a group of people.

Established about a year ago, the Sydney-based start up received a $25,000 grant from Jobs for NSW to develop a minimum viable product. It was recently on display at the ITS World Congress in Copenhagen as part of an Austrade delegation, and Smart Cities Week in Sydney.

Since going live, Ms Stace said the analytics platform has received a “huge amount of interest” from potential customers.

The software is completely anonymous and does not use any facial recognition software, Ms Stace said. The company complies with the “very very strict” privacy requirements of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came in earlier last year.

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