Monitoring physical distancing for crowd management: Real-time trajectory and group analysis

Caspar A. S. Pouw, Federico Toschi, Frank Schadewijk, Alessandro Corbetta (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


Physical distancing, as a measure to contain the spreading of Covid-19, is defining a “new normal”. Unless belonging to a family, pedestrians in shared spaces are asked to observe a minimal (country-dependent) pairwise distance. Coherently, managers of public spaces may be tasked with the enforcement or monitoring of this constraint. As privacy-respectful real-time tracking of pedestrian dynamics in public spaces is a growing reality, it is natural to leverage on these tools to analyze the adherence to physical distancing and compare the effectiveness of crowd management measurements. Typical questions are: “in which conditions non-family members infringed social distancing?”, “Are there repeated offenders?”, and “How are new crowd management measures performing?”. Notably, dealing with large crowds, e.g. in train stations, gets rapidly computationally challenging. In this work we have a two-fold aim: first, we propose an efficient and scalable analysis framework to process, offline or in real-time, pedestrian tracking data via a sparse graph. The framework tackles efficiently all the questions mentioned above, representing pedestrian-pedestrian interactions via vector-weighted graph connections. On this basis, we can disentangle distance offenders and family members in a privacy-compliant way. Second, we present a thorough analysis of mutual distances and exposure-times in a Dutch train platform, comparing pre-Covid and current data via physics observables as Radial Distribution Functions. The versatility and simplicity of this approach, developed to analyze crowd management measures in public transport facilities, enable to tackle issues beyond physical distancing, for instance the privacy-respectful detection of groups and the analysis of their motion patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0240963
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2020


  • Betacoronavirus
  • Coronavirus Infections/prevention & control
  • Crowding
  • Humans
  • Netherlands
  • Pandemics/prevention & control
  • Pedestrians
  • Pneumonia, Viral/prevention & control
  • Population Density
  • Social Behavior


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