Technology landscape

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The technology landscape for measuring occupancy of a space is broad.  First, technologies are divided between those that measure entrances and exits across a perimeter to infer occupancy, those that measure occupancy directly, and those that track consumers everywhere using mobile applications and GPS. 

TechniquePerimeter detection with Entrances & ExitsDirect MeasurementInference by GPS Location Services
Applied technologiesCameras over doorways, light beams, infrared sensors detect visitors crossing a thresholdWi-Fi, Bluetooth, cameras (e.g. security cameras) detect visitors“Spyware” payload carried by third-party mobile apps reports consumer location
FeaturesDetects consumers only when in range of sensors, beacons, or camerasDetects consumers only when in range of sensors, beacons, or camerasTracks consumers everywhere
RequirementsRequires well-defined entrances / exitsVaries with technologyRequires installation of mobile apps

Perimeter detection’s greatest limitation is that it requires a well-defined perimeter, ideally with a small number of entries/exits.   The technology is not well-suited to open spaces like malls, lobbies, or locations with either very wide entrances or large numbers of entrances.  Camera technologies also carry concerns over facial recognition, require suitable lighting that may change over the course of the day, and are very sensitive to field of view.   

GPS location services are the most likely to seriously compromise consumer privacy.  While a consumer may have clicked “allow” when asked if a mobile app could use location services, most consumers don’t understand the implications of allowing their flashlight application to track their location at every moment of the day.  Either government regulation or action by Google and Apple are likely to constrain the behavior of geolocation tracking apps.

Among the technologies for direct measurement, advantages and disadvantages vary widely.

DimensionWi-FiBluetooth BeaconsCameras
RangeLarge to small: radius of 300 to 15 feetSmall, requiring many beacons in large spacesMedium to small (depending on camera location and resolution)
PrivacyExcellent, because mobile phones use identifiers do not correlate to personal informationPoor, because installation of a mobile app on each consumer’s mobile phone is requiredPoor, because cameras make possible facial recognition.
AccuracyGood, because a direct line of sight is not required.Varies: Bluetooth is good because the “cells” are small, but poor because few visitors install the mobile apps.Poor, because visitors that leave from and return to the field of view are “new visitors”
CostLow, because a single sensor can cover up to 300,000 sqftHigh, because a single sensor typically covers 1,000 sqft.High, because many cameras are required to prevent unseen corners.

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