CrowdScan Promises Accurate Crowd Analytics with Total Privacy, Using Radio Signal Attenuation

Rather than using facial recognition or capturing cellphone data, CrowdScan uses 868MHz signal attenuation to calculate crowd density.

Unlike traditional crowd monitoring, CrowdScan claims to protect attendees' privacy. (📷: CrowdScan)

The University of Antwerp and the Interuniversity Microelectronics Center (IMEC) have announced the development of a privacy-centric system for measuring crowd densities — without capturing attendee imagery.

As many nations begin to lighten restrictions on public gatherings following the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, monitoring crowd sizes has become a pressing issue — but doing so in a way that protects attendees' privacy is a challenge, many solutions being based on machine learning algorithms fed a live camera feed.

"There will be no mass events this summer, but the importance of accurate information on crowd densities has only increased since the coronavirus crisis," explains Ben Bellekens, CEO of University of Antwerp and IMEC spin-out CrowdScan. "By providing police and emergency services with accurate information on crowd densities, they can make fast, objective decisions. This can help cities guarantee social distancing at places where population density is high, like city streets, public events, or parks. CrowdScan also aims to make an online ‘crowd barometer’, to show population density at specific places."

CrowdScan doesn't use facial recognition, or camera feeds, or monitoring attendees' cellphones; instead, it transmits 868MHz radio waves and looks for attenuation caused by the radio signals passing through the crowd — a measurement, which it claims, can then be converted back into an accurate estimation of crowd size, and without any privacy implications.

“In Antwerp’s innovation ecosystem for metropolitanism and smart city, our university is focusing more than ever on value creation from research. To do this, we collaborate with the city government, local businesses and citizens. Open innovation hubs such as The Beacon facilitate this process by bringing people together and actively setting up projects that effectively benefit partners. That’s how CrowdScan grew into a startup that, due to the coronavirus crisis, became more relevant than ever," claims Silvia Lenaerts, Vice Rector Valorization & Development of the University of Antwerp. "This spin-off is a textbook example of how scientific research from the Faculty of Applied Engineering Sciences can actually generate an impact on society. As an entrepreneurial university, together with the City of Antwerp and IMEC, we have every reason to be proud."

"We are proud to enable the creation of this spin-off together with the University of Antwerp," adds Jo De Boeck, CSO at IMEC. "Recently, the innovative technology has been optimized for use cases with high market potential and a noble social purpose. For example, CrowdScan now offers a concrete solution to the new challenges that cities are facing today. With the support of the imec.istart acceleration program, the commercialization of this technology will accelerate in the coming months."

More information on CrowdScan can be found on the company website.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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