Smart LiDAR Sensors for Crowd Control with Impetus on Privacy

With the pandemic disruption, the power of anonymized location data, connectivity and smart sensors came to the fore for effective public services, infrastructure monitoring and tracking & tracing. While LiDAR sensors are crucial to smart mobility and the realm of hyper-connectivity and automation, their utility extends to traffic management, monitoring crowd patterns and complex supply chains as well.

Munich-based Blickfeld Gmbh is a manufacturer of smart LiDAR sensors that power IoT devices, smart mobility and a lot more. Founded in 2017, the company recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.

The company has over 130 employees and is planning expansion to the USA and China as well. It works with distributors and integrators in multiple countries. Along with EvoCount, a crowd analytics company, Blickfeld deployed 50 LiDAR sensors at a popular North Sea tourist destination.

“LiDAR sensors can scan a specific area accurately, capturing all details in order to optimize people flow processes. A great benefit is that LiDAR is also capable of preserving people’s privacy as the sensors do not capture facial features, ensuring absolute anonymity”, says Dr.Florian Petit, Co-founder and Chief Experience Officer, Blickfeld, in an exclusive interview.

Tell us about your vision for the next few years?

From the get-go we believed in the potential of LiDAR, knowing this was an essential piece of technology which could be easily implemented across an almost unlimited number of settings, spaces and industries – and this is exactly why we, as a company, are so excited when we look to the future.

Particularly important and exciting is our current focus on developing perception software that easily outputs the exact data users need to get immediate value from our solutions.

With new applications emerging every day and industries being continually transformed continually by smart LiDAR solutions, we will continue developing integrated sensor solutions which digitalize, simplify and make processes more effective.

During this year’s CES, we introduced our new “Smart LiDAR” Qb2, where our Percept software runs directly on the device, essentially eliminating the need for any external computers altogether.

We will be shipping the first prototypes to selected customers during mid-2022. Ultimately, I look forward to seeing how our solutions create value for customers across the world, helping digitize formerly highly analog areas like volume measurement in mining or agriculture industries, or even allow for GDPR compliant monitoring of crowds to support retail, tourism and event management sectors.

How can innovation and sustainability be best balanced for a post-pandemic era?

I believe in today’s world, sustainability is – and should be – at the forefront of every company’s mind. How a particular technology impacts our shared environment needs to be taken into account from the early stages of production.

The current sharp rise in energy prices makes it even clearer how important it is to save energy. LiDAR solutions contribute to this by making operations and processes more efficient. This can manifest itself in various ways.

For Example, recycling plants know exactly how high their capacity utilization is at any given time. Thanks to LiDAR solutions, drivers can target plants with available capacity. This prevents unnecessary trips.

Another example in the area of ​​traffic management. If technologies such as LiDAR help to steer traffic more smoothly through the city and promote more environmentally friendly mobility concepts such as autonomous shuttles or tele-operated buses, this contributes to a reduction in energy consumption, but also generally to a higher quality of life in the cities.

Also, in the surrounding areas we are involved in research projects aimed at improving public transport in rural areas through autonomous buses.

What role can LiDAR play in smart mobility solutions and in decongesting cities, managing crowds, and traffic management?

LiDAR is a remote sensing measurement technology, emitting and re-capturing laser pulses over a broad field of view. This ultimately allows for people and objects in a particular setting to be accurately pin-pointed.

When it comes to smart mobility solutions and cities, there are a number of different applications for LiDAR sensors to manage crowds, traffic and general congestion.

For instance, integrating LiDAR systems into city infrastructures can optimize traffic flow, whereby city workers are able to access precise 3D data at any point in time.

Blickfeld’s software enables a straightforward extraction of the object information at hand, making it even more efficient when dealing with and having to manage real-time occurrences.

Similarly, crowd management in today’s world is also crucial, particularly in cities where Covid-19 regulations such as safe distancing are in place.

LiDAR sensors are able to scan a specific area, accurately capturing the amount of people in said space, in order to optimize people flow processes. A great benefit to the technology with this, is that LiDAR is also capable of preserving people’s privacy as the sensors do not capture facial features, ensuring absolute anonymity.

Tell us about your 3D perception software and its application areas?

Blickfeld Percept is innovative and easy-to-use perception software which empowers everyone – even those without any 3D imaging knowledge – to translate data into actionable insight for real-world applications.

Essentially, the technology turns raw point cloud data into digestible and manageable data, all within a normal web browser and with the simple click of a mouse. Percept software simplifies value extraction from advanced 3D data and enables quick creation of continuous real-time data-processing workflows.

When mounting our LiDAR sensors within particular settings, they capture chosen parameters, processing the field of view of the space at hand. Percept then translates the data collected, allowing workers to access the information which supports them to better understand, process and manage areas.

In fact, we initially designed Percept with the goal of enabling customers with little experience of managing 3D data processing, helping them to develop scalable solutions for a variety of purposes such as volume measurement of bulk materials within industries such as mining, agriculture, waste disposal and recycling.

It also has utility in perimeter security for buildings and critical infrastructure, or even the flow of people traffic on pedestrianized streets, in supermarkets, shopping malls, at tradeshows – to name a few.

Blickfeld LiDAR is used in asset tracking and infrastructure monitoring as well. Tell us about your work with FH Aachen in track monitoring for freight?

As I outlined earlier, LiDAR capabilities can be implemented into a variety of spaces. A strong example is train stations, as monitoring track areas for incoming and outgoing trains proves to be an essential part of the operations process. The sensors can also be placed directly on trains.

For example, our work with FH Aachen to support the shunting of trains consists of fusing LiDAR point clouds with camera data to detect objects on the track reliably, captured by sensors placed at the rear end of the last wagon looking back.

This project will allow for a more digitized and autonomous process when dealing with rail operations, essentially relaxing the need for man-power within train stations altogether.

When it comes to shunting freight trains, usually at least two people are in charge of manually monitoring the track areas to ensure there are no obstacles in sight. An additional difficulty when undergoing this task is that this has to be performed in wind and other troubling weather conditions, which is not ideal at all as this puts workers at risk.

At Blickeld, we have been developing an assistance system for shunting freight trains that takes over track monitoring and thus supports the locomotive drivers.

The integrated systems include two Blickfeld LiDAR sensors for 3D obstacle detection, a stereo camera for close-range detection, two additional cameras that provide the data basis for algorithm-based object detection, and a radar sensor. In addition, the system has an acoustic warning signal.

With the help of LiDAR, the operators can ensure any train track is clear when reversing, essentially simplifying this process altogether.

What would be the impact of low latency 5G on LiDAR, and what role can LiDAR play to make global supply chains more streamlined and resilient?

As far as global supply chains are concerned, LiDAR solutions can play an immense role. With them, data finds its way into digital systems previously not available at all, only in analog form, or not in real time, eg, volumes of bulk goods.

If countless industries can be further digitized this way, it will have a huge impact on the efficiency of companies and, viewed in global terms, on the smooth flow of goods and data around the world.

Connectivity is also very important. We are constantly thinking about ways around it and to develop solutions that can be deployed without using infrastructure such as network cables.

Also Read: LiDAR to be at the Forefront of Mobility-as-a-Service

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