Crowd simulation software visualises layout for social distancing

Computer models for safely organising buildings and public space


Computer science researcher Roland Geraerts, together with his startup company uCrowds, has adapted his crowd simulation software for 1.5-meter social distancing measures. The software displays the effect of social distancing on the use and layout of various locations. Geraerts has already set up projects in collaboration with the City of Utrecht, the Police and Utrecht Science Park. The Faculty of Science has invested extra funding in a six-month study of the mathematical models behind mobility and social distancing.

The densely populated country of the Netherlands is becoming accustomed to social distancing: café owners are spacing out the tables on their terraces, shops are setting limits on the number of shoppers allowed inside, and businesses have implemented one-way traffic in their office buildings. Geraerts’ software can show the effects of social distancing in these types of locations. “The municipal government hopes to be able to use these simulations to join with companies to study how they can organise their space and determine the safe maximum capacity of the number of visitors.”

Monday morning traffic

Geraerts’ simulations make an even bigger impression when one examines locations that normally have large flows of visitors. They make it painfully clear that the capacity of train stations must be dramatically decreased.

Roland Geraerts bij Nieuwsuur

With social distancing measures, the normal amount of Monday morning commuters at station Utrecht Centraal would become completely deadlocked. “You can see that there’s actually only capacity for 20 percent of the usual number of people. That will have to become the new normal”, Geraerts recently explained in the Dutch news programme Nieuwsuur.

Vuelta and Eurovision

Geraerts frequently contributes to the spatial layout of major events or new locations. For example, he has set ‘virtual dots’ in motion to predict the flows of spectators for the stages of the Vuelta tour scheduled to be held in the Netherlands in 2020. And earlier this year, he joined with the Police and City of Rotterdam to simulate crowds for the Eurovision Song Contest. Both events have been canceled due to the coronavirus, but they are expected to be re-scheduled for a later date – with the benefit of the lessons learned from Geraerts’ crowd simulations.