Space Out – Crowd Analysis for Safe Distancing
Space Out is a map-based website that provides the public with regular updates on the crowd levels in malls, supermarkets, and other public facilities across Singapore. The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA’s) Digital Planning Lab partnered with mall operators and other stakeholders to create Space Out.
Why Space Out?
Space Out seeks to provide timely information and past trends on crowd levels to assist people in choosing where to go for a variety of retail and recreation purposes, so as to promote safe distancing amidst the Covid-19 situation. This was also to support operators in better managing the crowd levels at their premises, as well as facilitate more evenly-distributed crowds across different facilities. Space Out was launched during the early stage of the country’s circuit breaker in April, and we are adding more places and facilities to the website as Singapore gradually reopens.
What does Space Out do?
Using an interactive map, each participating facility is represented by a coloured icon on Space Out, as seen in the diagram above. A search function has also been implemented as an alternative method for pin-pointing location information.
Clicking on an icon reveals more information about crowd levels at the facility, including time of the last update, a recent trends chart tracking weekly average crowd levels and a display of nearest and less crowded alternative venues. With these details, users can better plan and optimise their trips to retail malls, supermarkets, markets, postal services, sports facilities and Sentosa.
How does Space Out work?
- Implementation of Space Out
The Space Out team implemented a CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous deployment) pipeline to review and push code to user acceptance testing (UAT) and production. It functions alongside a data pipeline, which takes in data from various sources that will be cleaned and transformed before being displayed on the front-end. The data pipeline is scheduled to run on specified time periods for consistent data flow.
Data processes in Space Out are scalable, flexible, and safe:
- Commercial Cloud Infrastructure Application Services were used, as they can quickly scale up or down when needed.
- By separating the web front-end from data pipelines, the team was able to prevent exposing endpoints of source systems.
- Stored and fused data is collected in the database to support data assembly and trend analysis. Conversion is also applied to mask raw data.
- A variety of innovative data engineering solutions were adopted, as the team had to adapt to the different technologies that each mall operator has, can put in place, or is willing to use. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) provided by GovTech and other partners were also used, where data is then cleaned and formatted before it is piped into the database.
- Data Collection and Fusion
We maintain a map layer with all the facilities’ locations and names, as well as details such as opening hours. Data on crowd levels are provided by the respective malls, retail outlet operators and facility owners. The crowd data that originate in a variety of formats from multiple sources are channelled securely into our data pipeline, cleaned and fused into a single unified dataset, and then transformed into formats for display in the Space Out portal.
Key Design Principles of Space
The Space Out team set key design principles for efficient product delivery and management, and to ensure that the portal is easy to use and inclusive to users.
- Creating an easy-to-use, flexible and scalable product – Developers opted for a web-map application, as it could be accessed from any device with an internet browser, without any installation needed. The user interface (UI) components were designed to be modular, in order to update Space Out with more outlets and activity types in a seamless manner. In addition, the interface and information on Space Out had to be user-friendly and easily accessible.
- Fast and dynamic improvements – In response to post-launch feedback, URA’s Digital Planning Lab enhanced map symbols to be more distinct for users with colour vision deficiency (CVD). While the original colour scheme was retained, each level of crowd occupancy was now represented by a different icon. Multi-lingual support (English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil) was implemented for greater inclusivity, and suggestions for less crowded alternatives were added to guide users’ decision-making.
- Designing with code for faster and smoother implementation – Material UI’s React components were used for faster and easier web development, while the Space Out prototype was designed in CodeSandbox for seamless collaboration between engineers and UI designers.
Challenges and Lessons Learnt
Bringing together crowd data from multiple stakeholders meant we had to work with data in a variety of formats. For example, some mall operators were using automated people counting systems, while others were doing counts and tabulation manually. There were some who could provide API services, but many were unable to do so. Hence, we developed a range of innovative solutions that enabled stakeholders to provide us the information in a pragmatic, secure, and timely manner. One such solution included the use of custom-built telegram chat bots.
We also needed to coordinate, iterate and work out cost-effective methods with vendors supporting respective retailers, each with varying arrangements due to differences in systems and contract scope. In some situations, we had to work with the stakeholders and their vendors to translate what they were measuring into a meaningful crowd level indicator.
We worked closely with every stakeholder to understand how they monitor their crowd levels and manage crowd information. We also frequently touched base with them to address any concerns and doubts they had, and walked them through every step of the onboarding process. We included new information services that stakeholders requested, and worked with them to update the opening day/times at their premises as the Covid-19 situation evolved. Post-deployment, we continue to keep regular contact with partners to look at how we can make processes more efficient for both parties, and have collaborated with them to implement multiple improvements over time.
Having an integrated design and development process front-and-centre enabled us to not only implement changes quickly without disrupting the user experience, but also be more responsive to the needs of our partners and users.
Last updated 01 February 2021