Evolution of People Counters

You need to know your clients: market analysis is necessary to improve the quality of retail and to attract more clients. Psychology and behavior studies offer new ways to develop your enterprise. For instance, footfall systems can provide a lot of useful information for business analysis. Today you can find various counting systems from IR-counters to complex technologies of stereo-stream and 3D scanning. Before that, to count the number of customers in the store you had to count them yourself or hire someone to do it. Of course, there weren’t as many stores and consumers then, and counting people wasn’t a necessity.
However, as the number of vendors and clients grows, so does the competition between them. You need to know how many people visited your store, how many of them purchased something, how the traffic in the store varies depending on the day, week or month. The requirements for the accuracy of customer counters are becoming stricter.
Once there was the time of mechanical and electromechanical equipment. In a mechanical device, the number on the counter changed when a button was pressed. The vendor or an employee would press it with the arrival of a client to make the number go up.
Electromechanical sensors worked based on the reed switch — contact breaking and closure as the sensor was placed into the magnetic field. If you put it near the door, you could enter the number of doorways and find out how many customers were there. The disadvantages of such devices included high chance of miscalculation, human factor, difficult mounting and the fact that readings needed to be taken manually.
Appearance of infrared counters was a big step in the development of such systems. The principle on which these horizontal counters work is beam breaking. The system consists of two parts: the transmitter of the IR beam and the receiver. When a person crosses the beam, their entrance is registered. First IR-counters had displays where the numbers were shown. They were unidirectoinal counters, i.e. they registered when people both entered and left the store, so you had to divide the end result by two. At the end of the day, the employees wrote down the numbers and rebooted the counters. With gathered data, you can analyze the traffic.
Advantages: they worked independently from each other and without human supervision, the mounting was easy and the accuracy was high.
Disadvantages: the accuracy got lower if the doorway was wider, the readings were easy to forge, and sensors could damage the goods or the furniture.
IR-sensors can be vertical. They work by reflecting beams from a person’s body. Usually they are installed within 1-3 meters from each other on a bracket on the floor. One crossing of the beam equals one customer.
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With the development of computing technologies came the possibility to transfer the readings onto a PC. There are different ways to transmit the data to computers: through a cable or a radio channel. You can also store and process the counter readings on your computer.
Now that the technology is comprehensive enough, we can employ two-way registration, that is count separately how many entered and how many left. Modern counters have internal storage, data transference via radio channels or GSM, self-contained batteries. If the signal is blocked, the system notifies the user.
3D-counters came into existence around the same time. They determine a person’s height and other dimensions as well as the direction of their movement, don’t count the same people twice. Advantages of such equipment include higher accuracy and the fact that it doesn’t depend on the lighting and the readings are difficult to falsify.
Further development gave us ways to transfer information wirelessly, longer time of autonomous work and lower cost of the supporting system. There are also systems of video stream processing, 2D-counters, that can recognize a person passing through by changing the background.
Such devices have many strong points:
high accuracy;
capability to transfer the data wirelessly to the company’s servers;
bidirectional counting;
coverage range;
they are multithreaded;
you can discover which locations attract clients the most.
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