Integrated Systems: People Counting Systems

Sept. 1, 2008
People-counting systems are easy to install and maintain. When presented to retail customers, they are an easy sell.

Customers today use full-service locksmiths to facilitate specialized systems that would normally not be associated with locking systems. Customers will ask locksmiths to install and maintain keyless entry, card access systems, annunciation systems and other integrated systems.

Locksmiths who deal with integrated systems should introduce themselves to systems that count people.

People-counting systems can integrate into other security systems that locksmiths may be maintaining for their existing customers.

To get started, locksmiths should consider installing in their own shops, the minimal system described in this article. Not only will they learn the value of collecting “retail intelligence,” but also they will have on display for their customers a working example.

After the first installation, it becomes evident that people-counting systems are essential to every retail customer.

Savvy retail customers use people-counting systems to measure the effects of advertising and to properly staff stores so that coverage schedules match the demand.
Effective advertising by itself will not get people to buy the targeted product; rather effective advertising will get people next to the targeted product.
Figure 01 shows that sales increased during a 12-week period at a retail store. Almost immediately sales continued to rise and somewhere between the fifth and sixth week, the ongoing $5000 per week advertising expense returned the investment, and continual profits grew after that.

Even without an indicator reflecting increased traffic flow, this chart clearly show that sales are up because of a successful advertising campaign.
Figure 02 shows sales results for a 12-week period at another retail store. Apparently the advertisement campaign has not been successful. Tracking sales alone suggests that the advertisement is a waste of time.
Fortunately, in this same store, people-counters were installed and after checking traffic flow, a different story unfolds.

In Figure 03, each week the amount of visitors to the store has progressively increased. This shows that the advertisement campaign is very effective, but there are other reasons as to why sales have not improved.
Reasons could relate to: the condition of the targeted product on the shelves, how the product is displayed, lack of sales personnel, or other reasons.
Figure 03 definitely shows that advertisement is driving customers into the stores and connecting them with the targeted product, but for other reasons, the store is failing.
Valuable marketing information is available to the savvy customer by employing people-counting systems.

The data collected by people-counting systems can be downloaded into Microsoft Excel or Access to generate useful graphs that can report peak periods of customer traffic. For example, Figure 4 provides an hour-by-hour count of how many customers were in the store and how many sales associates were available.

Retail chain stores that operate many stores in many states or countries rely on people-counting systems to virtually download store activity many times a day.
There are many different types of people-counting systems. Depending on the sophistication of the technology featured, systems can range from simplistic and inexpensive to detailed and expensive.
Large lock shops that special at handling all types of integrated systems can tackle these types of projects. Because of the specialization; projects can be very lucrative.
Realistically, the type of system that can be easily be installed and serviced by most locksmiths is Infrared Beam Systems. Locksmiths should start out with the simplest people-counting devices.

Infrared Beam Systems
Infrared beam counters project a beam across a portal and then display the number of times the beam was broken. Upgrades feature a means to send that information to a computer or network. When a second infrared beam counter is installed, the direction and speed of individuals breaking the beam can be recorded.

Although infrared beams are not as accurate as other technologies, they are east to install and relocate, and they are inexpensive.
It is possible to mount several infrared beams vertically “looking down” from the header of a portal. This set up yields 95 percent accuracy and can determine persons walking side-by-side through a portal.
A more accurate technology uses video and IP cameras to facilitate, computer vision.

Computer Vision Systems
Basically, computer vision is the ability for computers to see. Computer vision is the same technology that is currently used in medical image processing; production lines to enable robot arms to orient and position and to pick up parts; missile guidance systems; and in NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, allowing the Rover to move autonomously.
Compared to these difficult tasks, counting people and determining which direction they are coming from is an easy task for computer vision. When set up correctly, computer vision can be 98 percent accurate regarding counts and directions.

The way it works is that the image sent from the camera is received by the computer. Specialized software allows the administrator to designate areas in which the computer will watch for motion.
In Figure 05, two red squares have been identified for motion detection. When something enters either of the red squares, the computer flags the recording. If motion in the other red square is detected, the recording is flagged again and the direction and speed is determined.

Specialized computer programs have the ability to count the flagged incidents and determine the number of persons in a building or store when each portal is being “watched” by a camera.
Computer vision systems (cameras, computer and software) have the ability to interface with other types of software programs, for example, computerized point-of-sale.

The advantages of using computer vision to count people are:
–High accuracy
–Integrates with other systems easily
–Adaptable to any circumstance.

Of course computer vision systems will cost more than infrared beam systems and are more difficult to install.

Thermal Imaging Systems
Thermal Imaging systems use specialized thermal imaging cameras that capture heat signatures. People are identified as ghost-like silhouettes who are filled with colorful collages of heat ranges.
Images are sent to a computer (like computer vision systems) and sophisticated software can not only count persons and tell exactly which directions they are traveling, but can actually determine the difference between men, women and children.

Because these types of sensors (versus the term cameras) cannot precisely identify exact persons and can only identify people as very generic images, it may be possible to set up these systems to protect sensitive and public areas where cameras are strictly prohibited:

Public restrooms in urban bus stations are continually “tagged” by vandals, and the cost of graffiti removal is prohibitive. Transportation Authorities may be granted special circumstance by the Authority Having Jurisdiction to install thermal sensors to detect inappropriate activities inside restrooms.

Thermal Imaging Systems can learn what “tagging” looks like and then flag when it occurs. Regular cameras installed just outside the entry to public restrooms (and positioned legally) can record the faces of persons of interest.
When the “tagging” is confirmed, the computer software can organize the thermal images and facial pictures and then confirm by time stamp the entire event.
Advantages to thermal imaging are: that it is very accurate; can provide complete directional information; and can be placed where cameras cannot go.
These systems can be very expensive but well worth it.

Large lock shops that special at handling all types of integrated systems can tackle these types of projects. Because of the specialization; projects can be very lucrative.
Realistically, the type of system that can be easily be installed and serviced by most locksmiths is Infrared Beam Systems. Locksmiths should start out with the simplest people-counting devices.

Embedded Data Systems LLC distributes the Point Six Wireless Model 3005-31 Point Sensor Magnetic Door Sensor. This wireless transmitter employs magnetic contacts to determine when a door is open and then closed.
It uses very little energy and the onboard battery lasts between two to five years. It is shipped in the “off” position. Once installed, a button is pushed and the unit introduces itself to the Counter Manager.
Each transmitter can be installed up to 600 feet away from the Counter Manager (receiver), and up to 100 transmitters can be used at one location.
Installing the transmitter is very easy as both the contact and transmitter are surface mounted.

The Counter Manager is an RF receiver that collects data from up to 16 transmitters. As a web page server, it can be viewed using your computer’s web browser software.
Counter Managers are designed for one store, one location applications. The Counter Manager requires an Ethernet connection and can be networked with other Counter Managers. Each receiver has its own unique IP address.
The Counter Manager is a data logger and all data is stored within the unit.

Counts are grouped into 30-minute periods for the first three months. For display purposes, readings may be aggregated into hours, days, weeks, and months.
All information may be exported into a comma-delimited text file. The text file can then be downloaded into Microsoft Excel or Access.

Counter Managers come in both 318 MHz and 900 MHz versions. The 418MHz has an indoor range up to 200 feet. The 900 MHz version has an indoor range up to 1,000 to 1,500 feet.
Because the Counter Manager is wireless, installation simply requires connecting to the computer and then plugging the power supply in.

When there is a need to collect other types of non-counter data, the Point Manager should be used. Point Managers can support many stores and locations.
The Point Manager includes an integrated web manager and can receive data from all types of sensors.

It communicates with a computer using TCP/IP or serial protocol. It can store configuration information for up to 100 sensors having a combinated maximum of 250 I/O points.
On board is a time of day clock, battery backed RAM, and programmable flash memory.

For more information on products mentioned in this article, contact the following companies.
Point Six Wireless, 2333 Alumni Park Plaza Ste. 305, Lexington, KY 40517. Phone: 859-266-3606. Fax: 859-266-0702.
Embedded Data Systems, LLC, 1446 Gilberts Creek Rd., Lawrenceburg, KY 40342. Phone: 502-859-5490.