Nilay Kulkarni explains how he solved the problem of Human stampedes

Other | Wednesday 28th March 2018 | David

As unlikely as it may sound, thousands of people die in human stampedes every year. Which is why Nilay Kulkarni, the co-founder and chief technical officer of the real-time crowd flow analysis platform Ashioto Analytics, delivered a TED Talk about how to deal with the problem.

Kulkarni recalls how his grandparents were present at a stampede in their hometown of Nashik, India, which killed thirty-nine people. Having learned to code at a young age, Kulkarni set about solving the problem using three key pieces of information: the number of people in any given crowd, the location where they would gather, and the flow of people per minute.

Distributing radio-frequency tokens to monitor movement, and setting up CCTV cameras to monitor the crowds initially seems like viable solutions, but proved to be too expensive and impractical. So instead, Kulkarni came up with the idea of using a pressure-sensitive mat, which was called Ashioto (meaning footstep in Japanese).

The mat counts the number of people walking over it, and the speed and direction at which they move. It then sends the data over the internet to be analysed. This way, the team monitoring the crowd could easily determine if there would be a safe flow of people, or if stampede were to occur, in which case they would alert the authorities, who would then tell the crowd to disperse. Without the mat, it would be difficult to obtain this data, as a high-density crowd moves at a slow speed, making it hard to tell which direction it may be moving in.

Kulkarni explains that his mat is cheap, sturdy, waterproof, and reliable at recording data, and was also clearly a success, as it was used at the 2015 Kumbh Mela, which became the first event of its kind not to have any stampedes. Kulkarni will soon be making the design of the mat publically available in the hope that it can continue to save lives.