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Density's Open Space Radar tracks individuals in a room exactly however anonymously

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Everyone in the world is currently rethinking shared spaces. Part of this rethinking is understanding how they're being used, minute by minute and day by day. The tiny ceiling radar from Density finds and tracks people inconspicuously but with great precision, leaving the forces that monitor every table, chair and office.

Okay, in some ways that doesn't sound good. But don't worry, we'll get to that.

density began developing large-scale people surveillance technologies after realizing the capabilities of his entrance surveillance device, which uses infrared images to track people coming and going. They chose radar as a technology that had the range and precision to cover hundreds of square feet from a single point, but also wasn't able to easily identify anyone.

This is an important point as many are careful about installing people surveillance software on regular security cameras. The potential for abuse is high simply because the images can be easily matched with identities. While it may be cheaper to put computer vision on a regular camera, there are non-trivial risks and shortcomings.

Credit: density

Not to mention the idea that security cameras can watch over every desk and computer, read confidential documents and see every minute of movement. The system that created Density is very focused on presence – is anyone sitting in that chair? Is anyone in this office? How many people are in this room?

The radar creates point clouds, but not the detailed ones you see in the lidar systems of self-driving cars. It really is more like a cloud than anything – a small, upright cloud that stands next to the refrigerator in the office kitchen. When someone else comes in for a coffee, there is another, separately tracked cloud. But there aren't enough details to tell people apart or, without careful consideration, characteristics like size or clothing.

Credit: density

Of course, you can trace the clouds back to their desks and identify them retrospectively, but there's really no shortage of ways to track people right now. Why install a new one that's more useful for other things?

Because the data from something like that is certainly valuable. Cafés can observe the occupancy of the seats and A-B can test different layouts. Gyms can see which equipment is used most often and needs servicing or cleaning. Offices can reuse unpopular meeting rooms or furniture; Retail stores can find refrigerated shelves. The software that comes with the devices can also detect how far apart people are, how long they spend in different locations, and whether certain thoroughfares are used more often than others.

A screenshot of the density software in action.

The data is aggregated in real time so that a shared office space can easily see – without asking or checking – which desks are empty and have been all morning. Similarly, restaurants would not lag their table counts at the host station behind reality. (As you can imagine, these apps are primarily intended for the non-pandemic period, but now may be the perfect opportunity to get the devices installed.)

Add a layout image to the real-time cloud and suddenly things get really real:

Credit: density

Each of the open area sensors, roughly the size of a BLT, can cover 1,325 square feet from a height of up to 20 feet above the ground. This is a circle about 38 to 40 feet in diameter that you can fit a couple of meeting rooms or about 20 desks into. This is more than competitive with optical overhead cameras and offers the benefit of privacy.

If you're curious about what they look like in a real office space, here's a little search and find puzzle. They are hidden in each of the following office photos. I've included them in this gallery in order of difficulty.

(Gallery IDs = "2057950,2057951,2057952")

However, be ready for a little sticker shock first. An open area sensor costs $ 399 and there is an annual license fee of $ 199 for each sensor used. So if you set up a decent sized office, you will likely get well into the five digit range. Of course, anyone who runs such a large space knows the cost of things like space use studies (people actually sitting there and watching who is using what) and other useful pieces of equipment like ID-based entry.

"We're an order of magnitude cheaper and an order of magnitude more useful," said CEO Andrew Farah.

Density already has a few large companies among its customers, and while the entire office and retail world is being turned upside down, such tools are likely to flow into the next few steps. Being smart about how you use a room not only saves you money, it is safer and likely makes for happier people in it.

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Katherine Clark