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Counting footsteps to save lives


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Counting footsteps to save lives

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Millions of Hindu pilgrims visit the Indian city of Nashik for the Kumbh Mela festival. Held once every twelve years the festival poses a major logisitical challenge to authorities. A 15-year-old tech developer has come up with a solution – a smart doormat placed at the exit of a temple to count each footstep, estimating crowd numbers and relaying data back to officials. It consists of strips of sensors set inside a thick plastic sheet, encased within a rubber mat and powered by an external charger.

Nilay Kulkarni, is one member of the team who invented the step tracker or Ashioto, meaning ‘footsteps’ in Japanese.

“I have an interest in technology. I wanted to do something which is useful for the people. Developing a game is not useful for them. It’s better if we do something which will help them or assist them, that’s why I do it.”

Twelve years ago dozens of people died or were injured during a stampede at the festival. The step tracker is just one way the authorities can stay on top of visitor numbers. A heavy footfall in one area means they can deploy security where crowds are building. One challenge for the developers was adapting the device to each location, meaning a new mat was built each time, at a cost of 3,000 rupees per metre.

“The evolution of the device is continuing,” explains Kulkarni. “Our first model was made of cardboard and tin foil, which we made in four days. Evolving over time, it has now become sophisticated and very robust.”

In the longterm, Kulkarni hopes that the step tracker will find a use in shopping malls, temples and stadiums to help keep crowds under control.

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