The new reality of tracking technology

With the proliferation of wirelessly connected technologies, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, businesses have been acquiring new opportunities to optimize their demand forecasts, enhance their marketing efforts, and improve their sales operations. In this article, we are going to talk about human tracking technologies and how businesses across industries can benefit from them. In a nutshell, tracking solutions allow business owners to measure demand, improve service quality, gain in-depth insights on customer engagement, and increase their conversions and profits. 

So why do businesses need people tracking technologies? The answer is plain: to get actionable insights and seamless analytics. To understand better what is the purpose of these technologies and how to apply them in your business strategy, we suggest considering several examples. 

For retail sectors, people tracking solutions may be implemented via in-store tracking where, for instance, custom IoT solutions or video analytics software help track customers and transform raw data into comprehensive data to enhance marketing strategies and customers’ experiences. Or if you are looking for ways to improve space utilization in your office and optimize utility expenditures, for example, people tracking systems powered by IoT software can be your win-win solution. 

There are a range of technologies available, the selection of which depends on specific characteristics and business requirements and possibilities. If one technology can be cost-effective and simple to deploy, it may lack accuracy and may have limited capabilities. Therefore, we outline the main technologies for your consideration that are used across industries to count and track people. They help extract valuable data to make solid business decisions, improve customer satisfaction, and optimize business processes.

Technologies of people tracking: use cases

People Tracking Technologies, Euristiq

AI deep learning vision

The real-time detection of humans and their tracking via computer vision technology has been embraced by many industries: smart buildings, smart cities, retail. In comparison with popular visual classification tools, deep learning vision algorithms help identify people accurately. 

AI computer vision is a set of deep learning algorithms which are capable of recognizing patterns in images. Via AI software, these images are translated into other types of data. Being an emerging technology, AI vision is widely applied in in-store analytics to track customers. Data obtained through images is analyzed by machine learning algorithms to extract smart insights. 

The use cases of AI vision applications:

  • In manufacturing, computer vision can help improve employees’ safety on the plant and complement existing practices.
  • In retail, AI in combination with facial recognition and product imagining can foster automation of the stores and helps deliver seamless shopper experiences by tracking customer satisfaction. One of the real-world examples is Amazon Go which uses machine learning computer vision and sensor fusion to make buyers’ experience positive. With the Amazon Go app, customers do not have to wait in the queues – they just take in the supermarket they want without the need to involve salespersons or undergo checkout processes. Walmart, for example, uses facial recognition systems at the checkout lanes to identify customers’ mood. With this solution, Walmart salespersons can be reactive and offer help if the experience of the person is negative. Seems a great way to build strong relationships with the customers!
  • Smart cities apply AI solutions in a variety of applications. For example, computer vision can be applied in autonomous cars to track pedestrians and protect them from possible road accidents, like real-time road traffic monitoring systems. Regarding safety measures in smart cities, computer deep learning vision perimeter monitoring systems help detect unusual human activity in restricted zones, for instance, at airports or railway stations. With the human pose estimation algorithm, it is possible to track people by reading their body language accurately and detect people who spend an unusual amount of time in certain areas. There are vision-based crowd disaster avoidance systems that allow improving public safety by analyzing human behaviors in public places and identifying crowd density.
  • Large public and private facilities need to adhere to CDC health guidelines to prevent new bursts of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are solutions such as C2RO PERCEIVE, AI-based video analytics software, which provides real-time occupancy analytics and data on people’s temperatures, and detects whether visitors entering large-scale facilities wear face masks.
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Biometric technologies

Using a method of biometric identification, facial recognition is a technology that identifies a person through their face. This technology helps capture and analyze face mathematical and dynamic patterns based on facial details. 

Before applying this type of technology in your business, it is of high importance to comply with government regulations and consumer privacy.

Biometric technologies of people tracking, Euristiq

Use cases of facial recognition technology:

  • Smart buildings. Smart home security systems backed with facial recognition helps identify strangers on the premises and immediately flag an intruder to the alarm system. One more application refers to credential access to restricted areas via smart locks. Only authorized people can be granted access to their cabinets, homes, offices, etc.
  • Airports. Facial recognition has been already widely implemented by airports to enhance high-security checks and ensure automated aircraft boarding. Self-boarding turnstiles powered by facial recognition technology can help avoid bottlenecks at check-in areas, security points, and at boarding gates and accelerate overall boarding processes. In this way, by analyzing a passenger’s photo ID, the biometric scanning system can prevent multiple points of failure.
  • Banks. For authentication purposes, online and offline banking can be enhanced with facial recognition technology as well. In the first scenario, facial recognition systems enhance security enabling access only to authorized employees. KYC is a significant concern that facial recognition addresses; and in order to validate the identity of the person performing transactions or applying for the loan, biometric technology can digitize the entire KYC process making it more robust, effective, and perform on a remote basis. KYC allows banks to better protect from identity thefts as well as simplify transactional operations for customers. 
  • Warehouses. To ensure strict access to certain equipment or machinery, warehouse management system users can deploy facial recognition access control enabling contactless automated face login. If someone attempts to access without authorization, managers can view the history of the usage logs and detect intruders.

Thermal imaging

Initially, thermal imaging was a common night vision technology used in the military to detect objects in extremely dark environments. Over years, new advancements made this technology more available to other applications such as perimeter surveillance, fire fighting, healthcare, and medicine, etc. 

To understand how thermal imaging functions, it is worth noting that heat is emitted from objects, and it is made up of infrared radiation that is not visible to people. With thermal sensors, this radiation is converted into light pictures so that it becomes possible to view the objects in darkness, fog, or smoke. Moreover, these sensors are capable of translating this information to detect extreme temperature differences. With such capabilities, thermal sensors are versatile and are used across many applications. Thermal imaging is particularly used to identify suspicious persons, dogs, or any other dangers in the night.

3D stereo video analytics

Including a high-resolution camera and a processor that can capture an object in three-dimensional stereo vision, 3D sensors are focused on tracking objects with high accuracy. With 3D architecture, video analytics are geared at analyzing moving objects in high traffic, during day and night time making the video more profound and data-driven. 

Therefore, you can track much more complex persons’ behaviors, efficiently manage the queues, and engage customers. With precise in-depth video capability, 3D technology is capable of identifying a person’s direction of the eyes or recognizing gender.

Xovis, a 3D video analytics provider, implemented a passenger tracking system at Kansai International Airport to optimize the increasing number of international passengers. With this system including over 500 3D vision sensors covering 15 000m2, 98% of passengers can be monitored and tracked. This solution helps deliver real-time data on passenger flow in changing temperature and lighting conditions, efficiently utilize capacity, and prevent the growth of queues and wait times. Reducing wait times from 45m to 15m, the KIX airport significantly increased passenger satisfaction.

Time of Flight (ToF)

With its utmost precision capabilities and by maintaining people’s privacy, Time of Flight (TOF) has proven to be an advanced and revolutionary technology in people counting applications. It came into play in 2020 with the burst of COVID-19, when social distancing and efficient occupancy management became the main requirements for businesses. 

The Time-of-flight principle serves as a framework for measuring the distance between two points (from the sensor’s emitter to the target) and back, based on mathematical and physical characteristics. These calculations are performed by measuring the time difference between the source signal and the object. Sound and light are the most common wave types that are used for carrying the signals. In comparison with simplified sensors, such as ultrasound or infrared sensors, TOF sensors provide more accurate and reliable data with high reading frequency and far greater range.

Among the main benefits, time-of-flight technology can bring to businesses are the following:

  • Small size
  • Long-range
  • Precise data
  • Low weight
  • Low power consumption

While TOF sensors can emit and receive back reflections of their own light (even if there is little or no light at all), they can work improperly when colliding with the sun or shiny surfaces. Nonetheless, this technology offers huge opportunities across industries and its applications are diverse. Initially developed by Microsoft, TOF technology was not so widespread in applications, however, in collaboration with ADI solutions, it is going to be a game-changer providing greater accuracy. 

People counting systems backed by time-of-flight systems can be applied in smart offices, public spaces, and smart buildings to deliver real-time data and retrieve valuable metrics which can ensure high space efficiency and building management. Terabee is a real-life example of an advanced 3D time-of-flight people counting system that is precious nowadays, particularly for social distancing purposes. Some of the benefits are:

  • Occupancy monitoring and facilities optimization
  • Energy savings and improved comfort of occupants
  • Optimization of real estate expenditures
  • Maximum capacity compliance

WiFi location tracking

WiFi location mostly uses already existing infrastructure and access points (APs), therefore this type of location-based tracking is cost-effective. WiFi is a default solution for indoor positioning systems covering a range of up to 150 meters, however, augmented with GPS technology, it can work in an outdoor environment as well to improve accuracy. 

How does WiFi location tracking works? 

With RSSI (received signal strength indicator) and MAC address (media access control), WiFi positioning systems define the coordinates of the person. The principle is based on analyzing the intensity of the received signal strength and defining the location of access points. The number of access points and the timestamp of the signal determine how accurate calculations will be. There can be certain obstacles to define the localization of a device or a number of devices due to the WiFi activation on the device. The data output will depend on the device’s connection to WiFi. 

The identification of the person’s location is based on triangulation algorithms which determine the distance between the device and the access point. However, it is an issue to determine the person’s position accurately; therefore, there are other techniques available to accelerate the data output: signal strength, fingerprinting, angle of arrival, time of flight.

WiFi tracking software is used to monitor people to: 

  • Get valuable data on the occupancy in the office building. Based on this data, office managers can solve the problems of space underutilization.
  • Boost sales and improve customer loyalty in retail stores. Collected data from WiFi can be used to recognize returning customers. Integrated with data from your CRM system, for example, you gain more insights into your customers’ location behavior. Datavalet is a leading supplier of managed WiFi solutions and provides services across industries. 
  • Evaluate movement in the areas of transportation. Data obtained helps efficiently optimize capacity utilization. For example, Infsoft implemented a WiFi location-based system for one railway company to forecast space utilization in trains. In the app, passengers can view in real-time which wagons have free seats. 
  • Make effective marketing decisions in the retail sector. Businesses can leverage in-store foot traffic analytics to make their retail processes smarter. For instance, Euristiq deployed an IoT system for a Danish company to collect data and form heatmaps which would help them detect the most popular zones in the stores based on the triangulation. As a result, an intelligent WiFi system tracks customers allowing managers to further analyze customers’  behavior and make smart decisions in respect to proper personalized advertisements. Moreover, by using LED tracking lighting, the system allows controlling light consumption and individually adjusting the lighting level which makes the solution more optimized as well.

Bluetooth Low Energy beacons

iBeacons technology is widely used across applications since it allows easy and fast installation of devices, high accuracy within several meters, low power consumption, and cost-efficiency. Beacons are small radio transmitters that send out signals to tablets and smartphones. In the case of asset tracking, the Bluetooth principle is based upon beacon tracking attached to the asset in the building which transmits signals to the hardware. In terms of server-based tracking of people, receiver hardware receives signals from the beacon located in the peoples’ devices. 

Use case of people tracking, Euristiq

BLE technology offers multiple applications to create proximity-based customer experiences and improve marketing efforts for different businesses.

Use cases of the BLE technology for tracking people:

  • Customer behavior analytics. When you are aware of how your customers behave in the store or a shopping mall, what zones in the store are more engaged, and of other related information, you are equipped with capabilities to incentivize your customer to return. One of the largest health and beauty retail groups in the United Kingdom with over 15,000 stores worldwide hired Euristiq to implement in-store customer tracking solutions which allow the company to collect customers’ data and improve their experiences, optimizing workforce efforts correspondingly. With this system, retail managers can see the data collected from ESP32 devices on the number of people in the queue and the most visited sectors in the store. 
  • User authentication during check-ins and check-outs. With iBeacons, attendees at different events can be checked in. Installed beacons, for example, at large stadiums can help guide attendees to their seats. With Bluetooth analytics, you can gather all necessary information about the person and apply it for further personalized offers and discounts. For instance, in 2014, Major League Baseball was the first who applied Apple iBeacons at 20 ballparks to increase fan’s loyalty. With iBeacons, it was possible to track fans’ attendance and determine how many times they were at a certain location. Moreover, specific discounts and coupons were available for them.
  • Indoor navigation at the airports, railway stations, shopping malls. Using the app, passengers and customers can easily navigate in public places and find their destinations. Besides providing customers with a good experience, iBeacon technology can be used to help visually impaired people to navigate through public places. For example, San Francisco National Airport (SFO) deployed approximately 500 beacons to guide blind people in the airport.

Infrared beams

As opposed to the above-mentioned new time-of-flight technology, infrared beam technology does not provide precision and is not recommended by data analysts. However, it is still widely used by different businesses since it is a cost-effective and simple-to-deploy solution. Its principle is based on transmitter and receiver units installed on the entrance getaways that generate signals. Once a person crosses a beam – the signal is interrupted and the counting starts. 

Along with its simplicity, the infrared technology has its drawbacks such as lack of accuracy:

  • When two or more persons cross the entrance – the beam sensors are not able to count each person separately;
  • Other objects like shopping carts or baby carriages cannot be filtered. 
  • Beam sensors cannot separately calculate people who enter the premises and those who exit it since they cannot detect the direction of motion. 

LPWAN network technologies

LPWAN technology is a wireless low-power wide-area network. LoRaWan is a wireless protocol for long-range wide area networks that need little power and low bandwidth using LoRa. LoRa and LoRaWan refer to the category of non-cellular LPWAN network protocols. Considering the aforementioned features, this technology is a perfect fit for applications that cover smart buildings, smart cities, smart farming, and industrial use cases. 

LPWAN technology enables businesses to deploy IoT smart solutions in their applications to:

  • Efficiently manage energy consumption
  • Control pollution and climate changes
  • Reduce resource consumption
  • Prevent disasters
  • Enhance infrastructure efficiency

Here is a good example of how with LoRaWan technology, Canadian company Tektelic solved the problem of office workplace underutilization. The Euristiq dev team developed a smart office application allowing managers to collect data from proximity sensors regarding room occupancy to be further processed by a custom smart office software. Dashboard data on bookings synchronized with Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar shows the room occupancy.

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What’s the best tracking technology for your business?

There is no precise answer since each industry and business have their own goal requirements and specifics. Yes, you can outline the main criteria worth considering before selecting the right tracking technology for your business, however, these are generalized recommendations. Before hiring a tracking technology dev team, prepare some questions like these ones:

  • What problem do I want to solve? (poor customers’ loyalty, underutilization of resources, poor security measures, etc.)
  • Can I integrate my existing systems with new ones?
  • How much expenditure can I afford to deploy a new solution?
  • How can I use smart analytics in my decision-making? 
  • To what extent do I want to get accurate data?
  • Who will be my provider and partner?

In any case, we offer you to get in touch with us to discuss your project and be equipped with more detailed information oriented to address your specific problem.

If you are interested to learn more about Euristiq projects, contact us.

  • Author Ivan Muts
  • Published April 12, 2022
  • Category IoT
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