Project 4: Autonomous Crowd Management

Day one of the project was spent scouting out locations. We were looking for somewhere impactful were people would notice our projection, in an unobtrusive way, that would benefit the experiance of being or passing through a space.

Photograph mockup for projection project • David Valente

We wanted to be pragmatically constructive to our environment, while exercising our creative muscle. Both of the first ideas executed on only one of these. One was the idea to post a twitter timeline of all the course accounts associated with UAL. The pillar was the perfect ratio to project this never-ending information on, and the feed would give passers-by a deeper insight into the work of the students they pass every day.

Video of location for projection project • David Valente

The other idea was premised on cheering up the ones who have to endure passing through this narrow corridor every day. As they reach the end, they would be presented with a shop-display like Christmas countdown on the panoramic surface above them. This idea, hugely unhelpful to those who just-gotta-be-somewhere, I felt could be justified as it was above the eyeline, thus giving the visitors the active choice to see it unlike the twitter timeline at eye level.

Later we narrowed the ideas down to four. One-by-one (with a bit of back and forth) we critiqued each of these. In regards the usefulness, feasibility, designed implementation, and depth to which they took advantage of this unique medium. In addition to the Christmas countdown, these were: a simplified projected timetable with directions for students on a given floor or area of the building; projecting the number of people passing in a given direction; and lines on the floor showing a recent history of the volume of people passing through a space.

Photograph of test projection • Tyler Parry

Just a quick play with warping a gif onto an uneven surface. You might be able to make out the mannequin. This image highlights one of my issues with this medium. It’s so fragile. It requires so much just to achieve the minimum expectation. A dark space, uninterrupted light source to surface, endless calibration… But like many technologies, I feel it does have its ideal application, whether it’s been found or not.

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The final idea chosen would communicate how busy a given route is based on recent data; similar to long exposure images of headlights on a motorway. In certain contexts, users would be able to make decisions on the spot based on recent data as to which would be the least busy — or most efficient to route to take. Similar to how the green-to-red road highlights in Google maps allows drivers to pre-emptively make routing decisions, this extents it to walking pedestrians. Train stations, concert halls and theme parks often have multiple options for people to take to get between popular locations, and though the dynamic floor markings will have to be taught, this method allows for a more accurate instruction for efficient routing, than a static sign based on long term observation.

This principle could have the potential to be useful for evacuations and tracking crowds of people; it embraceds the medium in a way that a sign couldn’t simply replace to the same effect; and to my delight it was an unexpected result that came out of a methodological process. Thus, this was the chosen idea.

When thinking how to visually implement this, I considered using the walls as there would be less of an issue with interrupting the projection to the surface. However, this stepped too far away from the data itself, based on the position of people on the floor.

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Photograph mockup of project project idea • David Valente

Another representation I thought to do would include circles at each possible exit to the space, that change in size according to the number of people who passed over them. This was so disconnected to the individuals passing through, that, though it has clear benefits over the electrifying final concept, that I dropped this. For the main concept of this project, I wanted to have a clear correlation to the user of their movement and the projection, which this did not convey. However, this idea is much more structured and constrained to the possible visuals that it can display, meaning it would be easier to read.

Currently, companies doing crowd management need to observe behaviour, conduct research, experiment, prototype, and finally implement changed behaviour. An incredibly long process in a age where agile and Design Thinking rules. Using this method we can directly manipulate human behaviour to improve crowd management, through an immediate response to their actions. In theory, the users are now conducting the inefficient movement and the changed behaviour, in real time. This idea facilitates changed behaviour, rather than imposes it.

One example of an organisation’s crowd management I am continuously exposed to is Transport for London. A never ending series of experiments to improve the vast movement of people through their network.

Photographs in King’s Cross station • David Valente

The green lines on the platform to tell you where not to stand, temporary directions for those with large baggage, and the tried and tested repetitive signs through the tunnels that make up the stations — are all static. They all try, successfully in many cases, to improve the flow of people, however, fail to reflect for the restless and fluctuating natural state of crowds.

For the test projection below, ideally projections need a dark setting, but this is not practical for this application, so I tested with the lights on too. The effect is more visible that I predicted.

Projection of idea in light setting • David Valente
Projection of idea in dark setting • David Valente

Video mockup of final idea • Ran Cheng

Not working in code this time, I had a more hands off experience. Working with Ran again, our roles had switched. Where I had a more creative direction role, while he was producing the tangible output. I’m really glad things worked out this way. Such that we can see both sides.

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Video of project mapping concept • Jan Krasnodebski

The visual representation is what we could throw together in the week. The idea would have a much flatter, cloudier aesthetic, to more reflect the aggregate data. Colour was one strong topic of discussion. I feel, dependent on context, this would vary. Maybe at the Manchester United stadium, red could be justified, but at a train station, the green, amber, red aesthetic would be appropriate. These are still open questions.

To conclude, this idea, even toned down is really nauseating and can result in serious injury. Plus requires significant education and habituation to be a useful addition to large swarms of people. The implementation is poor, but the principle I believe can be highly impactful, in the sense that it reduces the volume of information and duration to seek this type of data for users.

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