Internet of Business spoke to Jonathan Foucheaux, a partner at entertainment design and production company Solomon Group, to hear how the company is using a rapid application development platform to build IoT apps for festivals.
New Orleans-based Solomon Group specializes in providing custom software to events organizers to improve the entertainment and pageantry for customers.
The company works with the likes of Live Nation, a conference ticket provider, and the New Orleans music festivals Essence Festival and Voodoo.
At these events, Solomon Group provides monitoring, tracking and access control through radio-frequency identification (RFID) wristbands for anything from VIP security to managing labor onsite.
However, at Essence Festival, which has a large daytime component that is free to attend, sheer volume of numbers required a technological solution that could better aggregate the number of entrants and leavers throughout the day.
An IoT solution
According to Foucheaux, “The challenge was that the fire marshal wanted to shut us down after we hit the capacity of the convention center, which we do early on in the day. The issue is, people were leaving throughout the day and we wanted to be able to let additional folks in as others left, as there were long lines waiting.
“That left us with the challenge of finding a way to figure out what the total count was in the venue at any given moment. If 10,000 people left, we wanted to be able to let 10,000 more in, but you can’t manually track that data.”
In other words, Solomon Group needed a way to track attendee flow in real time.
“So what we did,” Foucheaux told IoB, “was we came up with this idea for optical turnstiles, that we built from scratch in our Fabrication Shop. These were posts that look like turnstiles but without the arm, and they have two polarized retro-reflective sensors that are about three inches apart. We had those tied into a custom board that snapped onto an Arduino inside of each [post].
“As people come in it sees, [from] whichever sensor gets clicked first, if they’re going in or out, and Arduino keeps track of that. Then every 60 seconds, the Arduino makes a REST call to our Mendix application and posts its most recent information [in the app].”
Having acquired that data, Solomon Group was able to see which entrances were most popular and how many people flowed through the gates at certain times of the day, all of which feeds into things like where sponsorship is located and which food and drink stands need restocking sooner.
It also meant the company could tell the fire marshal exactly how many people had come and gone, allowing a smoother flow of people throughout the day.
According to the company website, use of this technology meant one promoter was allowed to sell 2,500 tickets rather than the 2,000 allocated previously. At nearly $200 per ticket, that equates to a revenue swing of nearly $100,000.
Importance of rapid app development
The underlying technology behind this solution came from rapid application development company, Mendix.
Solomon Group had been using Mendix initially to develop its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, but saw value in using the technology to support its clients workflows.
The Mendix low-code application platform allows employees to use visual models to build their applications quickly and without the need for code. The models use the same language for both the business and IT teams, and the platform should connect to cloud-based systems or any legacy technology with ease the company says.
For the project with Essence, Foucheaux says Solomon Group built everything inside Mendix – bar the work done by the Arduino – which meant all the aggregated data from the turnstiles could be visualized in the Mendix app.
Extremely satisfied with the Mendix platform, Foucheaux explained how something that would normally take his team 10 hours to build in code could be modeled in roughly 10 minutes using Mendix Microflows. Even Foucheaux, not a developer by profession, was able to learn how to use the platform. “It’s really, really user-friendly, it’s very, very quick and the output looks really good,” he said.
Solomon Group clients can now work with Foucheaux’s team to develop ‘custom instances’ on the Mendix platform, and can visualize how these will work before deployment.
Foucheaux indicated that next up is an application that will incorporate both RFID wristbands and gamification during the registration process at a large sporting event later this year. This won’t just improve tracking, but also create more personalized experiences for fans.