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Crowd Management Improving user experience and security at large public events

| Redakteur: Johann Wiesböck

Public events such as music festivals, city marathons, or Christmas markets attract forever-growing crowds, which sometimes turns them into a logistics and security nightmare. To see how technology might help improve this, imec and a number of partners have tested a large-scale deployment of smart technology at a music festival.

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Enjoy the benefits of a high-tech festival experience for access control, social interaction and a richer festival experience.
Enjoy the benefits of a high-tech festival experience for access control, social interaction and a richer festival experience.
(Bild: imec )

In the iFEST imec.icon project, smart wristbands communicating wirelessly with an intelligent, scalable infrastructure gave participants of public events a better experience while ensuring the organizer’s peace of mind. The technology is ready to be applied to many situations, e.g. also for people and traffic in urban settings, at rush hours, in shopping malls.

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Music festival as living lab

If you visit a concert or festival, chances are that the organizers give you a textile wristband for access control. You’ll probably use paper tickets or cash money to buy drinks and food. And there will be a print-ed festival magazine with the program and the venue layout. In other words: although the artists are working with the latest high-tech equipment, concertgoers cannot yet enjoy the benefits of a high-tech festival experience for access control, social interaction and a richer festival experience.

Seeing all the technology that is coming available for the IoT, imec and a number of partners decided to set up a living lab with a large-scale deployment of wireless apparel.

The venue that was chosen was the 2014 edition of Tomorrowland – a pioneering event in terms of innovating the festival experience. The attendants were given smart wristbands that combine short-range RFID with long-range wireless capabilities. Equipped with tracking means, these ensured not only smooth access control, but also improved security. And with added LEDs, they even allowed for a massive engagement during an impressive light show.

“A key challenge within the iFEST project was to transform the existing smart wristbands into a true Internet of Things network with a reliable and robust connectivity,” explains David De Wever, CEO of project partner PlayPass. “And this was not an easy task: festival or concert locations are the most chaotic environments one can imagine in terms of setting up and maintaining wireless networks. In other words: supporting 10.000s of connected festival wristbands and providing visitors and organizers with a robust wireless connection was a big challenge. But cracking this nut would allow us to change the festival experience for-ever.”

A new high-density wireless network

To give festival attendees a flawless digital experience, the wireless network running in the background has to be rugged and stable at all times. But it also needs to be configured in a short amount of time – typically 12-24h prior to a concert – for a large amount of users and on a location with no or few network facilities, e.g. a large, unused tract.

Also, once set up, a festival or concert is the worst thinkable scene in terms of keeping wireless networks up and running: there is constant interference by people using their smartphones, the metal structure of the stages and the use of non-traditional wireless devices to control sound, fireworks, etc. In short, it's a wireless mess.

“We were surprised to see that the state-of-the-art models for predicting the performance of WiFi in such an environment largely underestimated the situation,” explains research lead Steven Latré (imec - IDLab - UAntwerpen). “Therefore, one of the major outcomes of the iFEST project is the realization of a new protocol to wirelessly connect thou-sands of people via their bracelets in such kind of ‘chaotic’ environment. We also developed wireless gateways (as opposed to the wired gate-ways that are used today) that are low power and specifically created for high-density environments. They allow for a faster set-up and con-figuration of festival networks. Finally, using the signals that the wrist-bands send out, we developed more accurate and scalable localization algorithms that allow pinpointing both a single user and a crowd.”

Another important result from the project is the platform that was set up to gather and combine all sorts of data, data that can then be analyzed in real-time and used as input for various applications.

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