WaitTime – the science of crowd management



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Zachary Klima on Coliseum US Image: MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

Detroit (Michigan)-headquartered WaitTime is a crowd-science artificial intelligence (AI) software company, providing real-time information on crowd behavior. WaitTime’s state-of-the-art, patented AI leverages both a guest platform and an operator’s platform to observe, measure and maximize the impact of the WaitTime system using real-time data and historical analysis.

Zack Klima, Founder and CEO, WaitTime, US, explained in an exclusive to ‘Coliseum’ how the company has forayed into uncharted territory and how WaitTime’s novel technology helps to streamline crowd movement in venues and congregation centers which is the need of the hour today in a COVID-struck planet.

Zachary Klima stated that when he first started the company in 2014 it was “quite a winding road” as people took the whole idea of WaitTime with a pinch of salt. The entire exercise is to track human body and process information on movements anonymously.

Said Klima, “We took this completely different approach because our modus operandi is to track the actual human body anonymously. But, people didn’t necessarily care because they thought this kind of an exercise was being attempted before or this would never work. We met with a lot of resistance but slowly we started to break through and after the Palace, our next most progressive deal was with the Miami Heat (the National Basketball Association team based in Miami, US).”

Klima stated that Miami Heat was one of the most “technologically advanced and progressive with technology”. The Miami Heat helped WaitTime to craft business solutions and also helped the company to reach an exalted position.
 

Why WaitTime?

  • Provides real-time information operators and guests need to make smart decisions;
  • Provides real-time data and historical analytics on crowd behavior;
  • Patented artificial intelligence gives operations personnel live information on crowd movement and density;
  • WaitTime connects the dots and deliver premium guest experiences using the WaitTime system; and
  • WaitTime’s real-time data keep fans updated on guest traffic and in-game issues like reduced speed of service, closed points of sale and pain points.

 

Modus operandi

Sensors are mounted above concessions, merchandise, restrooms, ingress or exhibit congregation areas. The technology anonymously interprets crowd conditions in real-time.
 

Look and feel

Wait times are represented by spectrum bars that change from green to yellow to red relative to line lengths. These spectrums are shared with guests or digital displays and mobile apps.
 

Digital displays

WaitTime is displayed on digital displays at key decision-making points, allowing guests to know exactly where to go.

Guests can also view WaitTime from their pocket using their mobile app.
 

Pandemic pain

The head honcho said that when COVID-19 hit the world in March 2020 – with the United States being ripped apart by the virulent virus – it was “crazy” because everything was shuttered.

But, WaitTime had the edge as Klima explained, “WaitTime was rising from a ‘nice to have’ from before to a ‘luxury item’ to a ‘need to have’.”

COVID-19 has also brought about a 360 degree change in the operational standards of venues with strict coronavirus protocols in place like face coverings being made compulsory, handwashing, hand sanitizer stations in stadia, and maintaining social distancing.

Added Klima, “The bigger challenge at hand was to more evenly distribute people across the arena or stadium. You need to know where people are so that you can prescriptively craft revenue strategies about where fans are in real-time. So, throughout the pandemic, it’s really changed from WaitTime being a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘neither have’ to ‘must-have’.”
 

Tasting success

Today, WaitTime has forged a global partnership with Cisco to enhance venue experiences. Cisco tackles crowd management solutions – “So, now we have a nice sales arm for us to really scale in a massive way get the word out and start to move the solution forward.”

Cisco is an American multinational conglomerate that develops, manufactures and sells networking hardware, software, telecommunications equipment, and other high-technology services and products.

Klima informed that they started pivoting the product and at one point of time WaitTime was all about fan experience and now “it’s more of an operational and health, safety and security element”.
 

Queue algorithm

WaitTime has cameras mounted directly over many orders of line – restaurant line, gate entrances to gate into the stadium and the technology works in real-time “and we are anonymously tracking each person’s movement every 10th of a second”.

The above information is vital because one gets alerted on crowd conditions. WaitTime’s partnership with Instant Connect plays a strategic role as Klima observed, “Instant Connect’s automation lets our users turn insights about crowd behavior into real-time action.”

Organizations around the world use Instant Connect’s push-to-talk software and automated workflows to revolutionize how their mobile teams communicate, collaborate and perform.

Continued Klima, “If a particular space hits a certain number of people on line, Instant Connect notifies through the various communication platforms. So, what were once serpentine queues in venues and a very dissatisfying aspect is now being identified as a risk zone due to the pandemic. A risk zone is a cluster of people and knowing where those clusters of people are is a super important operation because they need a response to how your building is behaving in real-time and not necessarily how you think it is behaving.”

Earlier, venue operators did not worry about long queues or overcrowded areas. But, with COVID-19, everything has changed and overcrowded areas give sleepless nights to people who run the show be it in a venue, congregation center, event halls or malls.
 

Entry-exit algorithm

The entry-exit algorithm is something which WaitTime has introduced since COVID-19 bared its fangs on the world. Once the venues started reopening after the coronavirus curse, Klima stated that venue operators started approaching them and asked – ‘Will WaitTime be able to track how many people are entering and exiting a certain space because occupancy is really important to our reopening strategy across the world and venues’?

Klima further explained that the entry-exit algorithm is all about mounting cameras at the ingress points in malls, convention centers and “All these different areas that could be attached to a stadium or an arena and in these smart districts or within the stadium itself, an exclusive club or tracking people going in and out of the stadium. Through this algorithm, we are counting simultaneously how many people are entering and exiting that space in real-time. A group of people come in and once they cross the actual threshold which is in the form of an orange line, they turn away which means that we built a safe zone. So, it is really a unique way, some sort of wider system and does not involve any of the doors counting stuff that is very messy.”

Klima maintained that artificial intelligence allows WaitTime to be very accurate and precise when it comes to mastering the occupancy of a space as part of the entry-exit algorithm. It also helps to maintain the safety quotient and in partnership with Instant Connect, the company do not allow venues or any other building to get overcrowded because “our entry-exit algorithm gives very real-time and accurate control occupancy of certain spaces.”

The CEO described WaitTime technology as an all-encompassing ecosystem. In conjunction with Intel and Cisco, the company is using its software to operationally measure what’s going on in certain locations across a ballpark. It is monitoring the traffic of these different areas and WaitTime is using its technology from an operational perspective to start identifying what’s going on in real-time and to turn those assumptions into Science.

Added Klima, “We are using it from an operational perspective how to help to impact revenue strategies.”
 

Teething troubles

When he first started WaitTime in 2014, Klima did not even have the faintest idea how he will track people and did an in-depth study about the same.

He added, “In the beginning, I thought about tracking devices, bluetooth and wifi, which ended up being very inaccurate”
 

One of a kind

Asserted Klima, “No one in the world is doing what we are doing. We track the human body, we track their heads, shoulders, arms and it’s all anonymized. We met with a lot of resistance in the beginning and we had to properly educate people that we are doing a thorough scan of the human body with mounted cameras but we don’t store data and we don’t store videos.”
 

Best of both worlds

Klima termed the WaitTime technology as the “best of both worlds because it is accurate and anonymous and it is really hard to do.” The company has teamed up with the cream of crop people and some of the world leaders in imaging to give shape to this technology. Once people are thoroughly tutored about the technology per se and how it works, Klima says that “we do have our very large leg-up”.
 

Bread and butter

Klima asserted, “Our bread and butter are sports. Obviously, that’s a very large focus in terms of WaitTime trajectory. Right now, another vertical that has been identified throughout the pandemic is congregation centers or malls. All of these large venues they have been absolutely crushed by the pandemic. So, we are working very diligently with malls to address the return of occupancy strategy when it comes to WaitTime or when it comes to reopening the malls.”

Klima signed off by stating that malls and convention centers are a huge focus for WaitTime right now. Same is the case with sports venues because due to COVID-19, be it the sports venue sector or malls, everybody’s business has got decimated. And highest occupancy is what matters for any business entity right now to keep the financial wheels well-oiled and to do that in a safe manner, keeping a hawk eye on crowd movement and behavior is of vital importance. And this is where WaitTime’s role comes into play as Klima concluded, “Malls and convention centers right now are a huge focus alongside of sports”.

WaitTime has indeed come a long way with its out-of-the-box technology and the company’s technology gains more significance in a world which is still suffering the pangs of COVID-19 and crowd discipline is what the company facilitates and at the same time enabling high occupancy which is vital for sports venues or malls to bounce back after the pandemic.

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