Oasys says that its MassMotion proximity modelling tools take the guesswork out of pathfindin.

The company says that the bottom line is that buildings are not going to be able to reopen and operate safely without robust post-pandemic planning for pedestrian movement. Have you really got it under control?

Real people get confused and break rules. It’s one thing to hang signs and tape lines and crosses to the floor but will people stay in their boxes, but will people comply? Will they rebel against the new normal? Will they have real fear of proximity? What real use is CCTV footage after the fact of what you failed to prevent? How will you know how to manage your space as guidelines ease, or if the government asks you to double down again overnight in the face of new waves of infection?

Are you just guessing? Wouldn’t it be better to design risk out?

It may come as a relief to learn that the raw materials for greater certainty, and the flexibility to keep up with a dynamic situation over the months, and possibly years, to come is already in your hands. The existing designs and both 2D and 3D CAD drawings for your building, probably readily accessible BIM resources, can be used to render 3D model of the building which can be populated with realistic, intelligent agents whose behaviour is modelled by pedestrian movement software. Oasys, the software house of Arup has acted quickly to add proximity modelling to its MassMotion analysis packages.

MassMotion has long been the Rolls Royce of pedestrian simulation and the choice of global consulting engineers and architects. It’s rather timely that the software world’s ubiquitous move towards subscription rather than outright licensing, has come at just as professionals across the built environment are grappling with the need to understand pedestrian behaviour in more detail than ever before. And, no, Proximity Modelling is not a premium chargeable extra.

Mass Motion proximity modelling tests and visualises scenarios within computer models. Its native 3D design means that crucial potential pinch points like stairs and elevators are also modelled accurately and can be observed in animated visualisations. Its sheer power means that new parameters can be entered into the model and a new simulation will run to test new ideas within minutes.

The proximity modelling tools show how close people are likely to get and for how long and highlight risk areas. Yet just how realistic are the results? How close to real people can virtual agents be? As ever, it’s all down to how smart the algorithms are – and these are very smart.

MassMotion will model the individuals trying to avoid going closer and, if they find themselves too close for comfort, trying to find a better route. If they’ve got no option, they will go through a narrow gap, albeit reluctantly: 2m isn’t a hard barrier – like real people, agents don’t just stop dead. Of course, 2m can be reset to 1.5m or whatever other guidelines are introduced)

The statistical analysis can be shared as static or animated visualisations and/or matched to a density map, showing the location of the obstructions, the hot spots. Knowing where in the design that people are spending too much time in close proximity is key to preventing it from happening.

How Oasys MassMotion works

MassMotion came from some real user needs from the design community in the early 2000s. Oasys’ parent company, Arup, was working on major airports and train stations around the world and, at the time found that while there was often data about where people were coming from and going to, thee was very little understanding about how they would use a new space.

So, the Oasys development team looked at the academic research around factors such as the average speed of a population at different levels of crowding, their preferences in terms of personal space, and so forth. MassMotion has customised some of this data based on real-world projects and matched it to technology that would enable people to test changes quickly. Close links with the academic community keep MassMotion algorithms at the leading edge.

In MassMotion agents are given itineraries – getting to their desk on the sixth floor, for instance. Behaviours can then be layered on top, to test various scenarios. For instance, you can block a staircase or take a lift out of commission. The agents will intelligently decide on the most efficient route and you can see if you will breach social distancing guidelines at a glance. You can then test different remedies, such as asking a department or team to stagger its working hours differently until the problem is fixed

“What the team have done is to produce a new set of analytics that can be drawn from the software. We have also accelerated some experimental research to give customers the ability to test personal space preferences. For example, trying to maintain a 2m distance,” explains Lachlan Miles, MassMotion product director.

Building energy management

Understanding and optimising how people use space is increasingly recognised by architects, but can it also inform smart environmental and energy management? Steinel’s innovation of smart sensors that detect the number of occupants in a space would suggest that there is a growing overlap here. Pedestrian movement analysis could be an invaluable long-term addition not our toolbox, not just an interim response to the pandemic.