Wi-Fi System Employed by DHS Tracks People Location and Traffic

By Claire Swedberg

InnerSpace's inFORCE solution can detect the locations of workers or the public as they move around a space, thereby facilitating social distancing, emergency response and crowd management.

image_pdfimage_print

Indoor location technology company InnerSpace has publicly launched its inFORCE solution, which detects the movements of people in indoor spaces via a Wi-Fi network, for use by government and private entities. The system has already been deployed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Center for Innovative Technology for location awareness in active shooter scenario trainings, as well as by stadiums to manage gate access based on crowd movement, and by private businesses to manage the flow of the public or workers within their spaces.

InnerSpace says its platform is designed to assist in the management of individuals in public or private spaces. That, the company explains, could aid in solving future challenges that businesses, cities and agencies face as employees return to work following the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine. The technology could be used to support social-distancing programs, emergency-response strategies and public-safety measures, according to Cerys Goodall, InnerSpace’s president and COO.

InnerSpace’s Cerys Goodall

The Wi-Fi-based solution captures data and uses received signal strength indicator (RSSI) information to identify the locations of devices such as smartphones, wearables and tablets. Typically, public Wi-Fi access points provide the infrastructure necessary to identify the movements of these devices, but the company can also provide IoT sensors and Wi-Fi-enabled tags for more specific data.

The InnerSpace software processes the locations of devices in real time, Goodall says, while also delivering trends and other data without identifying those persons, thereby ensuring privacy for those moving through a managed space. With the software dashboard, users can view a specific space and where people move within it, in the form of dots. This allows for analytics that can help an entity better strategize a space and how it is designed.

InnerSpace has offered its indoor location solutions for several years, and it developed inFORCE in 2019 so the DHS could track emergency responders undergoing training in an active shooter scenario. The training system was used at George Mason University’s Eagle Bank Arena in November as part of Virginia’s Smart City Internet of Things Innovation (SCITI) to improve the communication of rescue teams. Hundreds of first responders, researchers and volunteers participated in that effort. The first-responders wore InnerSpace’s Wi-Fi tags, while others were tracked only as dots based on their smartphone location.

The system was designed to improve communications and provide real-time data for all responders to an emergency, such as the presence of an active shooter. Traditionally, Goodall says, firefighters, SWAT teams, medical personnel and other responders all use their own radio waves to communicate, and there is limited connection between different parties. Many must rely on physically seeing where people are located. “They’re going into these buildings, doing sweeps to find people,” she states, “and they can’t necessarily talk to each other [by radio].”

For the November DHS project, the scenario consisted of InnerSpace’s Wi-Fi tags worn by emergency-response teams, as well as Wi-Fi nodes and InnerSpace’s cloud-based dashboard, on which managers could view the locations and categories of responders (such as fire versus police) in the form of colored dots. Further projects will take place in Virginia as part of an initiative to examine urban environments and technology use.

The solution is now being used for purposes beyond rescue training, Goodall reports. At stadiums, office buildings and other sites, an individual’s location can be identified within about 2 meters (6.6 feet). “We look for a radio signal and recognize it as a smart device,” she explains, without knowing a person’s identity. “When you’re thinking about public-safety solutions, you want to be cognizant of privacy. We realized that if we were going into this business and wanted to advance this technology, it was our responsibility to make sure we were also stewarding people’s privacy.” The solution, therefore, is compliant with Europe’s strict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regarding data protection and privacy.

In the case of the stadium, which has asked to remain unnamed, the system has been used to identify the flow of visitors through its entrance, as well as at concessions at different gates into the seating areas. The stadium can share information with the visitors via large screens and their mobile apps that display which gates are less crowded, while also determining when certain gate doors should be opened or closed in order to better accommodate traffic flow.

For businesses that need to control the number of people in a given space and where they congregate, Goodall says, the technology could help to ensure that they use the space properly without potential infection transmissions. If, for instance, someone were to test positive for COVID-19 or another illness, that individual’s smartphone or smart-watch data could identify where within a mall or concert hall he or she was located, provided that the inFORCE solution was deployed there and that the individual had granted access to his or her data. This could better enable businesses to alert others of a potential risk.

“In this way,” Goodall states, “you can be very targeted with your information” about where and when a potential health risk took place. This would be an alternative to a solution used by South Korea to identify the movements of COVID-19 patients prior to testing. South Korean officials accessed each patient’s data via his or her phone carrier and employed GPS information. In the case of the InnerSpace solution, she says, the data would be more granular and indoor.

In addition, offices can use the system to understand how workspaces are being utilized. As employees return to work after having been conducting their tasks at home, Goodall says, an office may look very different than it did pre-pandemic. For instance, offices may need to be rearranged to create more distance between workers, reduce congregation or accommodate a smaller group of employees if more opt to continue working from home. What’s more, the technology can deliver experiences to a company’s employees or visitors—for example, by identifying someone’s presence and turning up the lighting while he or she is on the premises.

“What’s interesting now, in today’s landscape, is that municipal government has the responsibility and opportunity to use data for public safety,” Goodall says, while COVID-19 may create many new use cases for the technology. InnerSpace expects customers to include grocery retailers, shopping malls or other places where people congregate, and it will need to provide some level of assurance that data can help ensure the safety of those within their facilities.

Regarding the pandemic, Goodall says, “These are the times when you realize you could do more.” As the public returns to a more routine schedule, she adds, businesses will be looking to make sure they’re able to address the safety of people in the event of future infections. “Do we have the continuity strategies in place, the tools in place,” she wonders, “so that, if this should happen next time, we’re ready?”