2011-06-09

Co.Exist

World's Most Advanced Crowd Simulator Predicts How People React In Emergencies

MassMotion puts a large, intelligent, 3-D crowd into a building's design and finds out where you need bigger doors or more escalators.

Humans react in a seemingly irrational manner during emergency evacuations; sometimes, people even get trampled in the process. But what if architects and developers could predict how large crowds might move through their buildings in the event of an emergency—and then tweak the designs to ensure that everything runs smoothly?

That's the premise of MassMotion, a crowd simulator that allows users to view hundreds of thousands of simulated 3-D people moving through urban environments (i.e. train stations and airports), all by programming each individual with a distinct personality and agenda.

MassMotion isn't the first crowd simulator, but it is the only one that can predict movements of unique 3-D individuals in a fully 3-D environment. It's the most realistic crowd simulator out there—and it can run on any up-to-date computer.

Developed by Oasys Limited, the software has already been used by Arup in the design of projects like the Toronto Union Station, San Francisco Transbay Terminal, and Montreal Trudeau Airport. The software proved so successful that Oasys is now putting it on sale to the tune of $20,000.

According to Oasys, the software creates the most accurate simulations of what people do in the event of an emergency evacuation—so designers can quickly figure out if they need to build an extra exit, for example, or another set of stairs. "There are large mappings of probable routes, and agents are empowered to make their own decisions," says Erin Morrow, product designer for Oasys.

MassMotion can also be used to answer a number of critical design questions, according to Morrow: "How well are the passengers going to be served by these extraordinarily expensive buildings? Can you actually get the volume of people expected through the station? Can people make their transfers efficiently?" By answering these questions before completing construction, designers can avoid having to go back and make tweaks—or worse yet, scrap certain parts of a project and start over.

"In terms of sustainability, good planning and forethought, it is much preferable to anything else," says Morrow. [MassMotion] can extend the useful life of a building."

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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