Startup in the spotlight: uCrowds

Utrecht startup uCrowds simulates crowds

Startup in the spotlight is a new StartupUtrecht initiative to showcase our wonderful portfolio of regional startups and their founders. This week we present Dr. Roland Geraerts, co-founder of uCrowds.

Ten years of research and software testing within Utrecht University preceded this, but since this year the startup uCrowds has been officially launched. Recently, August 8, 2018, uCrowds also received €250,000 for their Take-off-2 project ‘A cloud-based software solution for simulating crowds’. 

Things are going well for the startup that makes software to simulate large crowds of people in large infrastructures, events or computer games. In Utrecht for instance, the software was already used to prepare for the start of the Tour de France and the free market, Geraerts enthusiastically says. "The software allows us to view various scenarios. We can, for example, identify the scenarios in which security will be compromised. At the start of the Tour and also in a busy free market it’s important to know in advance what measures you need to take; where exactly must gates be installed and where do you place extra people from the organization? This is interesting for a specific event, but also for an area. For example; recently the municipality of Utrecht commissioned us to calculate for the station area the effect of events on the flow of people in the area. How big can these events be and what measures must be taken to promote the flow of people and not to allow them to become dangerously busy?”

Unique: fast, realistic, interactive

Of course, there are various parties that make it possible to simulate crowds. Geraerts indicates that uCrowds is one of approximately seven parties worldwide. The advantage is that uCrowds has been able to learn from parties that already did similar things in the 90s, but that the Utrecht startup can develop new and better software based on recent research and the latest software technologies. Geraerts says: "Our simulation engine works about five times faster than other engines. Soon it will be up to 100 times faster. Moreover, our simulations are more realistic than the others. People who walk alone or as a family behave differently when they suddenly come into a busy environment. That kind of individual and flow-based behaviour can be incorporated into our model. In addition to speed and realism, it is unique about uCrowds that everything is interactive: "During the simulations we can change things. Add or remove obstacles or change human characteristics.”

From university to startup to international party

UCrowds is also receiving more and more orders from outside Utrecht. "In London, for example, we look at crowds in metro stations. How do they walk, how long do they wait and so on. We are trying to create a good model of reality there. And even the Saudi Arabian government contacted us thanks to our unique expertise in the field of crowd-simulation. During the Hajj (pilgrimage for Muslims) we hope to be able to simulate this enormous crowd in real time. Due to the speed of our software, within 15 minutes scenarios can be calculated on the basis of which possible adjustments can be made.”

Next steps and ambitions

UCrowds is full of ambition: "With our software, we also want to contribute to smart mobility in the city. The delivery of parcels, for example, is increasingly taking place, with congestion as a negative effect. With uCrowds we can see if things can be done differently, for example if parcels are going to be delivered by bike from certain places. We would also like to simulate mobility throughout the city. And then not only how people walk, but also other traffic. We want to present this at a holographic table. By doing so, everyone gets the same picture and everyone can think along with us about solutions. This reduces the costs of such pathways and promotes civic participation.”

Need for collaboration partners and talent

Although the assignments seem to come in almost by themselves, uCrowds still has something to wish for. Geraerts: "We are always open to projects from governments. These are often large assignments where a wide range of expertise is required and cooperation partners are essential, so we are also happy to come into contact with them. Next to that, we are also always open to good programmers who can also bring the software to the cloud. In order to retain this talent, we need a high-quality and challenging working environment. Further financing of the growth of our young company is therefore also a priority for us.”

Read more on the website of uCrowds