People and assets are tracked in many areas of life to serve a number of purposes, some with good intentions and some bad. These processes range from high tech applications to very manual pen and paper solutions.
Why track things? The reasons range from security purposes, to understanding user behavior better and how spaces get used.
In this blog post we dig into what tracking tools are out there, how they work, and two examples of what’s yet to come.
What tracking tools are out there?
Starting off with the manual, non-techie processes: A clicker, pen and paper. That’s correct. In 2019, there are still people hired to sit down for a day at a venue, and with the aid of a clicker, count the number of people who are walking past them. Who employs such techniques you might ask? Surprisingly, Banks, Retailers and even Airports still use it. Doing so every couple of months gives them an indication as to what the numbers are… but as you would imagine, the accuracy is poor and the level of insight is very simplistic.
Next up in line, with a little bit more tech involved, are the NFC (Near-field-communication) cards. Commonly used in offices and travel cards such as the London Oyster Card. One might think of them as a modern way of replacing keys, but actually, it keeps track of every time you enter/exit an office or the tube. Think of it almost like a modern day punch card for factories! Moreover, when you associate your oyster card (which usually is anonymous when you first purchase it) with your email account to receive “travel updates” they actually (could) know a lot more about you. This then builds a pretty accurate view on your journeys over time and common routes. Similarly, at work: Work badges can be tracked to understand which meeting room was unlocked with which card (person), at which time of day, and day of week. This information, if aggregated over time can give an interesting insight into the office flow of employees and good material for HR to analyze…
Next one up, is GPS tracking, which today, is embedded within every “navigation” app, such as Google Maps, Bing Maps, Apple Maps, and even your local (if reading in London) favourite – CityMapper! This is with your consent, of course, part way through the terms and conditions. To reap the benefits of free navigation to your desired location, you give up something quite valuable, which is your location data. We can see below this anonymous person had quite a busy week! The only catch is, GPS can recognize which building you were in, but not where within the building. Meaning it falls short when it comes to indoor tracking! (Wondering how to stop being tracked? Read this article.)
Next one up is laser sensors (or often infrared), and not so different than the ones you would imagine seeing at a Mission Impossible movie. These ones in practice resemble the clickers we covered earlier on. They are placed by the entrance of specific locations, at a medium person’s chest height (or the ceiling), so that as people pass, it records the number of times the signal gets intercepted and thus provides a count on the number of people entering and exiting. Retail stores such as Orange (telecommunications) use these, and if you ever see one of their employee ducking under an invisible line while entering their own store, it’s because they don’t want to corrupt the data!
Moving on, we are now in the visual and heat sensor section. Cameras: if you live in London, there is a high chance that you have spotted quite a few of these in the street, in the office, in the train station... You name it. Well, interestingly, they have also spotted you. These cameras can also come with heat sensors, thus increasing the accuracy of body counts and understanding the flow of people. Optic cameras are also used in warehouses for more than security, because some of them can also do tracking of specific assets. This combined with technologies such as RFID, start giving a more accurate representation of where specific assets are. However, you can’t really give an RFID tag to passengers in Airports, or friendly shoppers in department stores… so technology doesn’t quite hit the requirement, especially when you have blind spots for cameras or people are walking in the opposite direction. Finally, one thing worth noting is the huge cost of installation and data processing when it comes to cameras.
So how do we do indoor tracking at Pointr?
By using Bluetooth® and a number of other sensors within your phone. There are two ways around it. With App and without an app.
Here is the rundown of what insights we can provide:
Select venue, relevant floor, date and time of day, and filter (by all users, or one specific user) and voila! From the below screenshot, we can see that this specific user spends their time mainly within his office and the meeting room highlighted with the brightest red.
Color coding representing dwell time: Faded blue (lowest) to Bright Red (highest).
Historical Path Simulation
Last on the agenda for today, is the historical simulation of paths. (Full video can be viewed here.) This functionality enables the venue owner to replay the path of one individual (or a group), depending on the time of day and date.
So what other technologies are on their way? Although there are a lot of technologies in R&D, here are two we’d like to share today!
Sensing silhouettes through the wall
Without the need of a device or any additional thing apart from your own body, there are technologies on their way that will have the potential to track people even through walls. Great for security… but perhaps not so much for privacy!
Increase in wearable tech users, smart mannequins and light bulbs!
All the new fitness trackers, health trackers come with a number of sensors, such as an accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, Bluetooth and more. This combined with new smart buildings or smart mannequins in retailers, connecting these devices and getting them to talk and share location will become a smoother process and thus enable a better understanding of location almost everywhere.