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The State of People Counting

Since 2002, SenSource has provided the best in state-of-the-art people counting solutions. The technology and applications have evolved significantly over this time, especially over the past several years. So, we’ve put together a complete guide to people counting technology and its uses in 2024.

Whether you decide to work with us or not, we hope this brings clarity into your decision-making process. To get started, either keep scrolling or click one of the jump link buttons if you’re interested in learning more about something specific, such as the installation process, privacy features, etc.

The State of People Counting: How We Got Here

For decades, businesses and organizations have collected statistics on how many people enter their buildings. Funding, staffing, and planning can all be made more efficient with this information. But the last few years have turned a “nice to know” data set into a “need to know” metric for basing strategic business decisions. 

During the Covid pandemic, it was suddenly vital information to know how many people are in a building at a given time to abide by occupancy restrictions put in place for public safety. The general population was made aware of technologies like automated people counters that previously worked in the background. Now in the foreground, public-facing displays were used to communicate to visitors the current building occupancy and whether they could enter or wait. 

To an extent, we’ve returned to business as usual, and building occupancy mandates have been lifted. But the significance of foot traffic data remains evident. In addition, data warehouses, AI, and advanced business systems have developed to a level where businesses are turning to data to reinforce many important decisions. It’s easier than ever to combine data sources like foot traffic analytics, point of sale, and staffing into a single program and output a meaningful analysis. 

What is the purpose of people counting?

Industries of every shape and size are using people counting sensors to optimize their operations. A few of the many reasons are:

A busy campus space with a people counting sensor for space utilization tracking

Which industries are most likely to utilize people counting technology?

Historically, libraries and retail were the main industries to use people counting technology. Libraries required patron statistics to submit to the government for funding and retailers wanted to know how many browsers converted into shoppers. 

As businesses increasingly rely on accurate data points to succeed, people counting technology has expanded into many other industries. 

Much like libraries, other government-owned or grant-funded organizations utilize people counting technology to justify funding requests. For example, university student unions, museums, state visitor centers, and parks. 

The amusement industry has innovated the way people counting data can be used. Rather than only using threshold counts at the door, sensors are being used to calculate ride wait times, dwell time of guests at attractions, and more. Amusement parks, family entertainment centers, zoos, and casinos all use people counting technology to improve business operations and improve the guest experience. 

How accurate are people counters?

In general, modern people counting systems can achieve high levels of accuracy, around 97% or greater. However, it is important to note that no people counting system is 100% accurate, and occasional errors may occur.

Stereo-Video technology is the most accurate way to count people with consistent ratings of 97% or greater.

It overcomes the inaccuracies of simple technologies like infrared break-beam sensors and Bluetooth/WiFi beacons, like, that both struggle with high density foot traffic. 

Thermal imaging is still used today and boasts an 85% accuracy rating. It’s ideal for very low light or total darkness scenarios where a video lens can’t function, such as a theater or haunted house. 

The introduction of AI is making stereo video people counting sensor even more accurate. Layered with machine learning, the sensors improve recognition of humans and exclusion of everything else. Scenarios that occasionally trick a sensor into inaccuracies, such as missing a count for a child in a stroller or adding a count for a mannequin, are resolved with AI as the sensor “learns” and continually improves its algorithm to define a human. By 2025, we presume AI will collect enough data points to improve the accuracy rating to 99% on average. 

a grid showing the accuracy of counting technology by comparing the year the technology was introduced to its level of accuracy

What’s the latest in people counting technology?

multiple views of a people counting sensor with dimension specs

People counting technology is ever-improving. Gone are the days of basic break-beam style sensors. Advancements in computing and hardware components have made stereo-vision, or stereoscopic, people counting the most accurate and accessible solution. 

Dual lenses allow the sensor to not only see an area but also gain depth perception. This triangulation is used in advanced algorithms to determine if a human is walking in the sensor’s detection area. It eliminates false counts of bags, carts, boxes, and other non-human things passing through the area.  

A PoE (power over ethernet) connection powers the sensor and transmits data to a cloud-based reporting platform. Modern people counting software offers reporting and analysis tools as well as an API to pull data into your existing business systems.

LoRaWAN people counters are the latest technology and are still in the R&D phase. Using the LoRaWAN network, people counting devices can communicate data without needing a hardwired cable or a WiFi signal. The quantity, quality, and scope of data a sensor can communicate and its connection consistency are currently being studied.

A History of People Counting Devices

Photoelectric Break-Beam

photoelectric break beam people counter installed on either side of a door frame

In the early 2000’s break-beam style counters were seen on doorframes across the country. The units used a basic technology to capture a general sense of a facility’s foot traffic. If the invisible infrared beam was broken, it incremented a count. The sensing unit included a small display for staff to read the foot traffic statistics for the day and reset.

Precision was the main problem with this technology. The device would increment a count whenever the beam was broken, and oftentimes the beam was broken by a crowd and the unit only counted one, rather than accounting for the five people who entered side-by-side.

Overcounting was also common if someone paced back and forth between the sensing units, perhaps waiting for a friend or talking on the phone.

Break-beam counters quickly became obsolete when the next generation of technology arrived and improved upon its shortcomings.

Thermal Imaging

thermal imaging people counter installed over a doorway using an extension pole

Around 2010, thermal imaging people counting technology took over the market and at the time were the most accurate. It resolved many of the inaccuracies posed by break-beam devices. Mounted on the ceiling, it captured a top-down view of a building’s entrance.

Using thermal imaging, a person’s heat signature was detected, allowing precise counting, including groups walking side-by-side and omitting objects without heat signatures like bags and carts. The devices were also PoE, meaning they connected to your network and push traffic data to software – no manual data collection required.

The problem with thermal imaging technology was inconsistency. Outside sources could affect the sensor’s ability to count, such as changes in temperature from a nearby HVAC system. Because the device is scanning for a heat signature of a human compared to its snapshot of the floor, if a person stood still long enough the sensor would consider that person part of the background and drop its track, losing the count.

After about a decade run, video-based technology outpaced thermal for the best counting solution.

Stereo Video

stereo video people counting sensor installed on a ceiling near an exit sign

Stereo-video based sensors remain the most accurate people counter technology on the market, consistently boasting 97% or greater accuracy. This high level of accuracy is achieved through dual lenses, a very specific algorithm to detect people, sensor logic added during configuration, and validations to notify falling accuracy.

Things to consider before implementation.

A people counting system is relatively easy to implement. Considering these few requirements ahead of time will save time and money during your implementation. 

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Determine network requirements

Loop in your IT personnel early on. They’ll need to open ports and gain access to your network in order for the sensor to communicate data to the reporting platform.

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Identify sensor placement

Consider your architecture, ceiling heights and building material at the location the sensor will be mounted. For threshold counting, a sensor is typically installed on the ceiling above the entryway. If you have high ceilings, a historical building, modern design, or other architecture with complex ceiling types, you’ll need extra planning for installation and cabling.

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Select a data ambassador

Determine who will be your people counting software admin to oversee the data, set up new users, contact technical support, and be the one to oversee overall adoption of the new data set within your company.

How much do people counting sensors cost?

The cost of the system depends upon the sensor model type and quantities needed to adequately cover the desired area. The cost includes three main components:

How many people counters do I need?

a man on a ladder running cable through a ceiling tile to install a people counting sensor

No two applications are exactly the same, so the number of people counting sensors will depend on your specific location and doorways. A field survey should be completed, including measurements and pictures, to help determine how many sensors are needed. 

In general, one sensor will cover a standard double doorway. The higher the sensor is mounted, the wider its coverage area. If you have an eight-foot ceiling, you won’t be able to view much more than the width of a doorway. If you have a ten-foot ceiling, you can view about 23 feet wide. An account manager will review your entrance measurements to determine how many sensors are needed. 

Multiple sensors can be stitched together to create a wider field of view when necessary. 

How is people counting hardware installed?

The installation process depends on the type of technology being used. Here are some general steps to install a people counting system:

Do people counting cameras pose a privacy concern?

a people counting sensors view of a person walking through a door with a bubble noting his height

No personally identifiable information is collected, recorded, stored, or transferred using a people counting devices. The sensor is not a security camera, therefore video feed isn’t recorded to a DVR.

Upon installation, the sensor’s low-res video feed is scheduled to record an hour segment to confirm the counting accuracy and sensor placement. No video feed is stored onboard the sensor, so you cannot go back in time and record or view past video footage.

You control the privacy settings of the sensor’s low-res validation video feed to dictate what is best for your guests and applications while maintaining the most accurate data.

What business metrics can be found using people counting data?

The data collected by people counting systems can be used to optimize operations, improve customer experience, and increase revenue. Retailers, museums, entertainment venues, and other businesses can use people counting data to make informed decisions about staffing, marketing promotions, store layout, and visitor flow.

Here are some common use cases for people counting data:

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Foot Traffic

The total number of people entering a physical location over a specific period. This metric helps businesses understand the overall flow of visitors. 

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Conversion Rate

The percentage of people who visit a store and make a purchase. It’s calculated by dividing the number of transactions by the foot traffic. 

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Dwell Time

The average amount of time people spend inside a location or within a specified zone. This metric helps businesses understand customer engagement and the effectiveness of floor layouts or displays.

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Peak Hours

Identifying the busiest hours of the day or days of the week when foot traffic is at its highest. This information can help businesses optimize staffing levels and resource allocation.

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Traffic Patterns

Analyzing the movement of people within a space to understand popular routes, high-traffic areas, and potential bottlenecks.

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Occupancy measures the number of people present in a specific area at a given time. This data can be crucial for compliance with safety regulations and optimizing space utilization. 

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Queue Length and Wait Times

Analyzing the length of queues and wait times in various areas, such as checkout counters or service desks, to improve customer experience.

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Marketing Promotions

People counting data can help determine the effectiveness of marketing promotions by tracking changes in foot traffic. 

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Store Layout

People counting data can be used to analyze customer flow and make decisions about store layout and product placement.

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People counting sensors can be used at an entrance to determine unauthorized access when a person piggybacks, or tailgates, an authorized user’s entry.

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Accurate store traffic forecasting is founded on historical traffic trends and advanced prediction algorithms.

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Space Utilization

Optimize space utilization such as within meeting rooms and auditoriums. Analyze how many people typically use a space to determine if restructuring or repurposing is needed.

What are the most important features to look for in a people counting solution?

When considering a people counting solution, several important features should be taken into account to ensure success for your specific needs. Here are some key features to look for: 

What level of business impact can be expected from a people counting solution?

a woman at a desk with her desktop and mobile phone reviewing software charts

The infusion of people counting data into your existing business’s performance indicators can have an impact on your operations, finances, and your guests’ experience. 

You’ll see an immediate impact on operations when you begin basing more decisions on data, rather than hunches. For example, the Hill Student Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham always staffed two student employees at the help desk throughout the day. Once they installed a people counter, they were able to see the peak and nonpeak times students were using the Center. 

Armed with this data, the director realized it didn’t make sense for two people to staff the help desk during slow traffic times. By simply adjusting the staffing schedule to align with traffic flow, the Hill Student Center saved $12,000 in the first year of using a people counting system.  

By adjusting the staff schedule, the Center was able to save money while maintaining the level of service the students deserve from the help desk.

Who are the top end-to-end solution providers in the United States?

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SenSource is a leading provider of people counting solutions that utilize advanced sensors and analytics to deliver accurate and actionable data for various industries.

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ShopperTrak, part of Johnson Controls’ Sensormatic Solutions, specializes in retail analytics and provides people counting solutions to help retailers optimize store performance and customer experience. 

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RetailNext offers a comprehensive retail analytics platform, including people counting solutions that utilize video analytics and other technologies.

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Dor Technologies uses a thermal sensing, battery-operated people counter to provide foot traffic data to retailers. Dor was acquired by Constellation in 2021 to expand its blockchain-focused product line.

Top People Counting Suppliers in the United States

Measurement of SuccessCustomer Satisfaction; Financial Gains Reinvested into CompanyFinancial Gains for InvestorsFinancial Gains for InvestorsFinancial Gains for Investors
Ownership StatusPrivate
Same owners since founded in 2002
Purchased by Tyco in 2015
Tyco merged with Johnson Controls 2016
Private with VC Backing
2007-2011 operating as BVI Networks
2012-present operating as RetailNext
Same owners since founded in 2007
Private with VC Backing
Same owners since founded in 2015
Target MarketMultiple-VerticalsRetailRetailRetail
Hardware TechnologyTechnology Agnostic
Orbit / Sensormatic
thermal imaging
Cloud-based SoftwareYes
Vea Analytics Platform
ShopperTrak Analytics Suite
RetailNext Traffic 2.0
DOR Foot Traffic Monitor
Monthly Software Rate$$$$$$$$$