ROCHESTER, N.Y. — In the era of COVID-19, the University of Rochester is using new technology so students can navigate the school’s library while avoiding crowded spaces and finding a safe place to study.
“You can see how busy the library at Rochester at any time of the day in real time, and that’s what a lot of the students at Rochester are using to be able to know before they go and see how busy it is and pick a place to study," said Nic Halverson, CEO of Occuspace.
The University of Rochester started piloting software from Occuspace in August.
The software and app is known as ‘Waitz,” and works by placing sensors in buildings which scan for Bluetooth and WI-FI signal activity in an area. That technology then determines how many people are in the area and updates the app with how busy the space is.
The company says there are "no invasive cameras," and "personally identifiable information is never used or stored."
“Because of our safety guidelines, we don’t want people walking through spaces where they don’t need to be. We don’t need more people being physically, approximate to one another just looking for spaces,” said Lauren Di Monte, University of Rochester River Campus associate dean of learning research and digital strategy.
The university says before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was looking for ways to provide students and faculty with information about spaces available in the library.
“Do you want solo study for heads-down quiet space, do you need a collaborative study environment, that was something we’ve always been interested in. When COVID hit, that became an even more important thing because the amount of space we had available shrank substantially. We’re at 30%-35% of our seating capacity now because of COVID restrictions,” said Di Monte.
“We felt a lot of responsibility once this pandemic started to hit. We saw more and more clients kind of relying on us for something that was really important and something that was going to help them bring students back on campus safely and reopen in a safe manner, and really keep people healthy," said Halverson.
In addition to updating students and faculty about busy areas on campus, Occuspace says it gives the data to the subscribing company or school so it’s able to analyze the data and optimize the layout of the space.
“We have five major kind of high traffic zones that we’re keeping an eye on and were going to keep an eye on through the rest of the upcoming semester and then determine if we’re going to roll it out to more places,” said Di Monte.
Students at the U of R can use the software for free using the website, digital signage on campus, the Waitz app, or the UR mobile app.
Occuspace says it’s already at 14 universities and plans to expand the Waitz App to upwards of 10 schools in January of 2021.
For more information, head to Occuspace's website here.