The new people tracking system, developed by VTT, aims to distinguish people from other moving objects and track their movements.
– The depth camera we have developed is based on a similar solution as the one used in the first Microsoft Xbox Kinect cameras for gesture recognition. It allows three-dimensional modelling of space and the tracking of moving objects, says Senior Scientist Sari Järvinen from VTT.
For example, human figures moving in a shop can be recognised and tracked.
– The purpose is not to identify people individually. The information analysed from depth data is provided as coordinates, not as video image, Järvinen says.
The main parts of the tracking system are a depth camera (infrared laser, a light-sensitive cell, and 3D image processor), software for processing depth information and a service analysing behavioural information.
When the light from a depth camera hits a person – or even a large amount of people – the camera produces a dot pattern of each person. In the camera cell, the pattern changes as the person moves. The software incorporated in the equipment deduces where the person is located and what is he or she doing.
– The system can be used in many different fields. I believe that it will first be applied in the commercial sector, where we are closest to having a finished product, Järvinen estimates.
Still, a lot remains to be done before we have a finished commercial product in our hands.
– The basic tracking system is now completed. The services to be built upon it are still under development for various areas of application, specifies Järvinen.
Assistance for operational optimisation
The functionality of depth camera technology has been tested at the Rinteenkulma shopping centre in Rovaniemi since last may.
– An installation of seven sensors is placed in the shopping centre passageway with a lot of traffic and most of the people passing by at good speed. Now the technology used in the basic tracking system is ready to tackle such an environment. Next, we will develop an analysis tool for store needs, Sari Järvinen points out.
In autumn 2013, VTT piloted the system at the women’s clothing section at Anttila department store in Oulu. In the pilot project, the real-time data produced by the system had been connected to intelligent lightning control.
– We tested whether it was possible to affect customer behaviour by use of light. We tracked people’s behaviour in static lighting, dynamic white lighting, and dynamic colour lighting. The third alternative, dynamic colour lighting, seemed to be able to attract the most people.
When considering the matter from a wider perspective, according to Järvinen, the trade sector could benefit from people tracking system in many ways and thus optimise its operations.
– For the management level of a chain of shops, it could offer a lot of information about human behaviour at various levels. If two shops in a chain have very different amounts of customers but about the same sales volume, one could consider whether some alterations would be needed in the way goods are displayed. In a marketing campaign held in a shop, it is possible to follow whether traffic around the campaigned products increases.
Sensors monitor the flow of people in the shopping centre.
More effective use of facilities
Trade sector is not the only business area that could use depth camera technology.
– Investments in business premises are usually a major cost for enterprises. With the help of the system, it is possible to monitor how the premises are used, Järvinen explains.
Companies have many facilities intended for common use, for example big conference rooms. Using the “people tracker”, it is possible to monitor the occupancy rate of such premises.
– There may be a lot of reservations for the conference room and it seems to be in constant use. Tracking may reveal, however, that not all reservations are used. Or it reveals that the premises are mainly being used for telephone conferences of one or two people, when they could accommodate 20 people. In such a case, one could consider whether the conference room could be changed in some way.
In a company, where there are different types of work stations in common use, one could monitor what types of work stations are really used and which are not.
Safety for senior citizens
The depth camera technology also facilitates safety services for the elderly living alone. They would benefit the elderly people themselves, their family and home care services.
– An elderly person can be tracked for a longer period of time to establish his or her typical behavioural models. This is done to ensure that the person can manage on his or her own. Memory disorders are easy to hide during short visits, and family members may not detect them. Our objective is to investigate how the behavioural information gathered by the system could be used for such purposes, says Järvinen.
The people tracker has already been piloted in a senior apartment.
– The system facilitates spotting changes in an elderly person’s behavioural routines and thus detecting if there are any potential problems. If one morning, out of the usual, coffee has not been made by ten o’clock and nobody has entered the kitchen, one can assume that something has happened, says the researcher.
The objective is that if changes are spotted in the elderly person’s routines, information about this is rapidly put forward and measures taken to check if he or she needs help.
The people tracker does not disturb the senior citizen’s life in any way. He or she does not need to carry any kind of safety device with him or her or carry out any measures. An unnoticeable camera monitors his or her normal daily life, in other words, the normal events, for example, in the living room and kitchen only.
The home care can easily monitor how the elderly person is managing at home by contacting the system using a web browser. If there has not been the normal amount of movement around the house, the system can also alert the home care to make an inspection visit.
– The development of the people tracker has been very interesting. The pilot projects have produced different opinions and valuable practical data on how the system should be developed further, says Sari Järvinen, summing up the experiences so far.
High expectations at Rinteenkulma
Piloting of the people tracker at the Rinteenkulma shopping centre in Rovaniemi has continued for approximately six months. The testing has focused on the technology only, and the system has not yet produced any actual data. However, Pekka Rinne, Director of the shopping centre, has high expectations.
The system pilot station has been placed in a shopping centre passegeway. The depth camera recognises the movements of people along the passage, registers how they move forward, and what seems to be attracting their interest.
This way, a lot of valuable information can be gathered, and Pekka Rinne is very enthusiastic about its potential uses.
– When we arrange a campaign or take a new measure in the shopping centre, we will be able to see whether it interests people and whether they, for example, stop to look at an add. Usually we only monitor the sales, in other words, how money flows are affected. It does not necessarily tell how well we have succeeded. A successful campaign may produce sales later, he points out.
In an individual shop, the system reveals whether people stop to look at the campaign product. Or if the shelf order is changed in a shop, the retailer receives information on whether the new organisation has attracted attention and turned out successful.
– Particularly in grocery, clothing and sports shops the order of things can be changed on a daily basis to test what would work the best, says Rinne.
The director of Rinteenkulma is certain that the system will interest the shops operating in the centre.
– For example, in a service-oriented sports shop it is certainly interesting to know how the customer moves in the shop and when he or she needs service. Usually a salesperson has to sense when a customer wants service and when he or she wants to continue browsing. The system may indicate when a customer is interested in getting more information about a product and needs service.
As a shopping centre director, Pekka Rinne is also interested in the data collected by the system on which shops truly attract customers.
– We are constantly considering what kind of shops we have and where they are located, whether we would still need some other types of shops, and whether we have too much of something.
Each year, the Rinteenkulma shopping centre, located in the centre of Rovaniemi, records 3.7 million visitors. They make 2.1 million purchases amounting to EUR 47 million.