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Tuesday, March 28, 2023 — Houston, TX

Waitz no more: Crowd level monitoring now offered at Fondren

Kelton Keck / Thresher

By Zoe Katz     9/28/21 10:00pm

When a student walks into Fondren Library, a lot of factors go into choosing their studying location — the amount of natural lighting, the comfiness of the chairs or maybe someone cute sitting nearby. Recently, Fondren has started sharing another factor to consider before students even enter the building: crowd levels, posted online and at Fondren’s entrances. 

Beginning this semester, Fondren partnered with Occuspace, a company that informs users how busy a public place currently is, according to library staff. 

Waitz, an app created by Occuspace, measures Bluetooth and WiFi signals to quantify occupancy levels. Custom ​​IoT sensors scan for the signals, which emit from computers, phones, smart watches and other devices. The resulting numbers are between 80 percent to 95 percent accurate, according to the FAQ on the Waitz website at the time of publication. 

“[The service is] a way of giving students real time occupancy data in some of our popular open space study areas,” said Sandi Edwards, who works as an assistant university librarian for Research Services at Fondren Library.

Waitz currently displays crowd levels for the Basement, 1st floor, 2nd floor Mezzanine, 3rd floor and 6th floor of Fondren. According to Edwards, a library-goer can download the app or use the Fondren website to check each location’s occupancy without setting foot on the floor.

Adel Iqbal, a Sid Richardson College sophomore, said he frequents the library once a day.

“Every time I go, I definitely use the information that’s available online as a metric for where I’ll be in Fondren,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal said that the crowd levels service has a big impact on his studying location.

“If [Waitz] says that it’s above 50, 60 percent capacity, then I will just completely avoid that floor,” Iqbal said. 

However, not everyone is as aware of Waitz and the services it offers. Danny Zhang, a Lovett College freshman, says he goes to Fondren to study. However, he said he has never heard of the crowd level monitoring service. According to Newton Huynh, a Will Rice College sophomore, the service would have an impact on where he would study ­— he just wasn’t aware of Waitz in the first place.

“I would probably prefer to go to a place that has less occupancy,” Huynh said. 

“[Waitz’s services are] done in real time, so the numbers are always current,” Edwards said.

According to Iqbal, however, the numbers do not always seem to be correct.

“There are many times I feel like there is definitely a discrepancy in what or how that service portrays the crowd levels and what I see,” Iqbal said. 

Edwards said that the service is not without its faults. In the near future, Fondren will have head counts for occupied floors and compare the results to Waitz’s occupancy levels, according to Edwards. 

“They’re gonna be doing a recalibration of the numbers,” Edwards said. “It’s a way of testing if the numbers are accurate.” 

Edwards also said that Fondren has continued to use COVID capacity levels for the library’s floors. These may contribute to the accuracy issues that Iqbal found.

“[The occupancy levels] that we are using are pandemic numbers,” she said. “They probably will stay that way for a while.”

The pandemic provided the inspiration to implement Waitz at Fondren, according to Edwards. She said that Fondren management hoped the crowd level monitoring would encourage users to socially distance.

Iqbal said he finds the service useful for his own COVID safety. 

“[It helps in] making sure I am able to social distance while studying,” Iqbal said.

Even after the pandemic recedes, Edwards said she sees a future for Waitz at Fondren Library.

“It will still be something we want to continue with. [Capacity levels] will change eventually, and they will affect the changing environment. I just don’t know when,” she said. “I see it as a long-term service.”

[9/30/2021 5:32 p.m.] This article has been updated to reflect that the company that Fondren partnered with is Occuspace, not Waitz Corporation.

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