GPS finds new crowd-control and medical applications

A Hebrew University researcher has shown that GPS can control crowds or the movement of shoppers, and even evaluatE patient recovery after surgery.

June 6, 2010 06:44
4 minute read.
GPS finds new crowd-control and medical applications

gps 88. (photo credit: )

Global positioning systems (GPS) have become commonplace to help drivers reach their destinations using satellites. But a young Hebrew University of Jerusalem researcher has shown that GPS can have other uses as well, such as controlling crowds or the movement of shoppers, and even evaluating patient recovery after surgery.

Michal Isaacson, a doctoral student working with Dr. Noam Shoval of HU’s geography department, has been involved in developing new approaches for the use of advanced tracking technologies. Her work has implications for understanding the activity of people in different settings, such as urban areas, shopping malls, theme parks, national parks and other tourist attractions. It has already been tested to evaluate crowd activity and flow at Spain’s Port Aventura theme park.   

For her research, Isaacson has been named the first-prize winner among students in this year’s competition for HU’s Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University.  The prizes will be presented on June 9 at the university’s Board of Governors meeting. Her work in this field has resulted in a book coauthored with Dr. Shoval and in several articles published in leading geographic journals. The first article she coauthored, published in The Professional Geographer, was noted by the journal as one of the top five most-cited articles in 2006 to 2007.

The system she and Shoval have developed uses GPS technology to record the location of people for a designated period of time. During this period, participants are required to carry a small GPS unit with them. The tracking data is then analyzed using a computerized, time/space analysis engine, to derive maps that indicate the volumes of activity throughout the location and charts that indicate how different types of populations spent their time in the location.

The data obtained using tracking technologies can also be analyzed in real time, creating virtual “radar” of the activity of visitors throughout a destination. Real-time analysis can lead to dynamic management of attractions in a more efficient way, both expanding the number of people that can visit an attraction within a given time frame and controlling their flow to promote sales. The analysis of this data can also change the way attractions are planned, and enable effective planning of future additions to an attraction.

The technology also has far-reaching medical applications, they say. In collaboration with Dr. Yair Barzilay of the HU-Hadassah Medical School and Hadassah University Medical Center’s orthopedic surgery unit, a method was developed for detecting the mobility of patients after surgery as an objective measure for their recovery and well-being. The patients carry a GPS unit with them after the operation, tracking their movements, which are then analyzed. Future development will integrate additional sensors that will allow the combination of GPS data with physiological data, such as heart rate and blood pressure.

The system was recently licensed through Yissum, HU’s technology transfer company, to Location Based Intelligence Inc., a US company, for further development and commercialization in the medical arena. Defining the potential market for this invention in the field of medical application is difficult at this stage, mainly because this product is creating a new market.


Another Kaye Innovation Award winner is Prof. Shmuel Peleg of HU’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, who designed OmniStereo technology to create three-dimensional photographs. Peleg believes it may be the most significant step forward for photography since color was introduced.

HumanEyes Technologies Ltd., the start-up company founded to commercialize this technology, already has signed contracts with a number of leading advertising agencies and printers. The major international advertising agency Publicis has begun to work with HumanEyes and intends to use its technology for some 300 signs that will be placed in the French metro this summer. Coca Cola performed a pilot study in Chile, placing Human-Eyes’ 3-D signs on the front of some of their vending machines – sales at those machines increased substantially.

“I hope it will do to 2-D photography what color did to black-and-white photography – that people will come to expect three-dimensional pictures,” Peleg said. He explained that the technology is based on stereoscopic vision. People have 3-D vision because the difference in location between the eyes causes each eye to see a slightly different two-dimensional image. The brain combines these images into a 3-D image.

With help from graduate students Moshe Ben Ezra and Yael Pritch, Peleg designed a computer program called Impactio, which stitches together photographs of a scene taken by a regular digital camera or a video camcorder. The photographs are combined to show different views of the image, printed onto paper or translucent plastic and then combined into a picture that appears 3-D to the naked eye, without the assistance of special glasses. The most expensive part of the photograph is the plastic that covers it, he said, noting that this makes producing a 3-D photograph only slightly more expensive than producing a 2-D one for an advertiser and therefore something that could be used in magazine advertisements, posters at bus and train stops, point-of-sale signs – and even for family pictures taken by amateur photographers.

Peleg established Human-Eyes along with his students and businessman Gideon Ben-Zvi (co-founder of Ligature and Wizcom). The company has raised $1m. from private investors and is about to complete another round of fundraising. Human-Eyes, which was the first company to establish an office at the new hi-tech village at HU’s Edmond Safra Campus in Givat Ram, employs 15 people, many of them HU students or graduates. The company already has service bureaus in different countries around the world.

The Kaye Innovation Awards have been given annually at the HU board of governors meetings since 1994. England’s Isaac Kaye, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage HU faculty, staff and students to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the university and society.

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