Monitoring Pedestrian and Vehicular Flows to Optimize Urban Mobility: In Conversation with Alex Buzzetti

Monitoring Pedestrian and Vehicular Flows to Optimize Urban Mobility: In Conversation with Alex Buzzetti

Alex Buzzetti is Co-founder and General Manager of Blimp S.r.l., an Enterprise focused on analyzing pedestrian and vehicular mobility in urban environments using proprietary technologies.

In 2012, he obtained a Master’s Degree in Automation Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano. The same year, he began his professional career at e-Shock S.r.l., a company of the e-Novia Group, as a Vehicle Dynamics Control Engineer focusing on significant development projects with national and international clients, including MV Agusta, DucaH, BRP, Triumph, KTM, and McLaren.

In 2017 he began working at e-Novia S.p.A as a Project Manager on activities with clients including OCTO TelemaHcs, Valagro, and FASSI, and contributed to the implementation of some entrepreneurial projects, including Blimp in 2018, for which, following the establishment of the company, he became a Team Leader and Board Member.

Q: Let’s talk about Blimp’s technology: how does it work, and what are its advantages?

AB: The permeation of technology in urban contexts has favored the diffusion of applications to support city institutions and brands operating in the retail world. These are large-scale innovations: in 2022, the robotic vision market, which Blimp products are aimed towards, was worth 2.4 billion dollars worldwide and is expected to reach 3.8 billion by 2027, with an expected CAGR of 9.6%.

Blimp has developed a service enabled by proprietary sensors called HeadCounters, which, thanks to computer vision algorithms, can measure the passage of pedestrians in real-time – classifying them by gender and age – and of vehicles, classifying them instead by type.

Head-Counter sensors can operate in very large spaces, covering a distance of more than 200 meters, with a consequent minimization of the number of installations required, even in vast areas. They are also able to process and interpret data by extracting the necessary information for brands to make targeted decisions.

After an initial phase of product development, in 2019, we launched our first solution in the Out-of-home advertising market.

In 2022, we consolidated our positioning by tripling our customers, doubling the monitored spaces, and acquiring the first international customers. The most significant growth occurred in the Retail sector, with distribution agreements with primary operators in the utility sector. We also launched our service with the first Smart City customers.

Blimp’s short-term goal? To further evolve the pedestrian and vehicle flow monitoring service, moving away from an analysis that relies on direct measurements via sensors and instead basing it increasingly on the estimation capabilities of algorithms based on historical data already collected.

Q: The privacy factor becomes crucial when it comes to data. How does Blimp address this issue?

AB: Considering the video monitoring activities and the relative protection of the captured image, it is evident that privacy is a central theme for Blimp.

The first aspect that needs to be highlighted is that Head-Counter technology is limited to assessing the number of people present in a given place and at a given time, extracting only anonymous and aggregated data.

The acquired images live for a few milliseconds only and exclusively in the device’s volatile memory to allow for the execution of the neural network algorithm, which in turn allows only statistical and anonymous data to be extrapolated. Shortly afterward, the images are permanently deleted from the system.

Between 2019 and 2020, we addressed the privacy issue through a series of roundtables involving the main players who, like Blimp, operate in the Audience Measuring Technologies sector.

The results then converged into a white paper, presented at a European event with privacy experts and also published by some newspapers and edited by the National IoT and Privacy Center.

Q: Let’s talk about Smart City: is it really possible today to imagine a city where services are increasingly interconnected to people?

AB: Here at Blimp, we operate with a set of technologies that integrate perfectly into the new lifestyles of the Smart City. An example is our smart parking solutions: through a visual signaling system, based on the actual count of parked vehicles, citizens who need to move by car can check in advance whether or not to park in a given area, saving time and fuel.

Our solutions also concern public transport, which is more environmentally and economically sustainable than the private car. We have adapted our technology to optimize urban mobility: regulating waste collection based on traffic conditions, informing passengers waiting at bus shelters of the occupancy level of arriving buses, and informing the operation centers of the need, or not, to send other vehicles promptly.

Our systems measure the influx of people moving on foot within public spaces, preventing situations of excessive or abnormal gatherings. They can calculate the number of pedestrians, their directionality, and the time spent in the monitored areas, predicting any dangerous situations and reporting them in real time as soon as they occur. Also, they can analyze road conditions in real time, monitoring the flow of vehicles in main junctions even outside urban centers.

All these data converge in our report on mobility, dedicated to analyzing the focal points in cities such as Milan, Rome, Florence, Turin, and other urban environments such as railway stations and shopping centers distributed throughout the national territory. The data allow us to understand the movements and general habits of people who move on foot or in vehicles within the period under consideration. It is a tool that has proved particularly useful during the pandemic to monitor citizens’ response to tightening or easing restrictions. Today our measurement activities are widely used in the tourism sector: for example, in 2022, we carried them out on the Amalfi Coast after a particularly intense tourist season, which saw the return of international tourism.