Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
Check foot traffic in real time before you head out the door.
Sometimes a five-minute coffee run can turn into a frustrating half-hour wait, depending on how many caffeine cravers are in line ahead of you. But what if you could know how crowded a place is before heading out for a latte, or a trip to the DMV, or even waiting in a hideously massive line at Trader Joe’s? That’s the concept behind Density, a new device that detects foot traffic in real time.
Here’s how it works: Businesses place Density—which comes in the form of a tiny black box, below—on their door frame, somewhere around hip height. Using infrared distance sensors, Density detects when someone has entered or exited the building. The device counts the number of customers who pass through each day, or even how many patrons are inside at a given moment. (A guest’s identity is entirely anonymous, and Density cannot capture any information about him.)
Anyone looking to gauge the crowd at a local establishment can receive notifications for free by downloading the Density app.
Tracking becomes a bit trickier when there is a line out the door or a set of double doors, but for the most part Density is reliably accurate. Although the company doesn’t have an official accuracy count, CEO Andrew Farah tells CityLab, “in some [test] environments, we’re at 98 percent.”
One catch is that the device cannot be obtained through the company directly, but instead must be purchased via location services or point of sale systems. Density licenses its data to startup companies for $25 per month (or, in some cases, per installation), and these companies then distribute their sensors to merchants at no cost (hardware and installation are free).
A handful of companies are devising ways to use it to boost sales during lagging periods. A startup called Requested in Sacramento, CA is using Density to offer discounted rates at local restaurants. Whenever Density detects slow foot traffic at a restaurant, Requested users will automatically receive a discount.
Since the service’s technical launch two weeks ago, Density is “under water with requests,” says Farah. The company has already received inquiries from startups, malls, major retailers, and Fortune 500 companies. Requests have also come in from more surprising sources, such as churches using the device to tally their congregations, or a company that runs homeless shelters.
Moving forward, Density has plans for pilot deployments in Austin, L.A., and New York City by the end of summer. They also hope to expand their business to location apps in order to determine what bars or nightclubs might be trending on a given night.