ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Nilay Kulkarni - Software programmer
Nilay Kulkarni is the co-founder and chief technical officer of Ashioto Analytics, a real-time crowd flow analysis platform.

Why you should listen

Nilay Kulkarni started developing software at the age of 14. In collaboration with the MIT Media Lab, he used his skills as a self-taught programmer to build a simple tech solution to prevent human stampedes during the Kumbh Mela, one of the world's largest crowd gatherings, in India. Now 17 years old, he is the co-founder and chief technical officer of Ashioto Analytics.

More profile about the speaker
Nilay Kulkarni | Speaker | TED.com
TEDNYC

Nilay Kulkarni: A life-saving invention that prevents human stampedes

Filmed:
1,019,660 views

Every three years, more than 30 million Hindu worshippers gather for the Kumbh Mela in India, the world's largest religious gathering, in order to wash away their sins. With massive crowds descending on small cities and towns, stampedes inevitably happen, and in 2003, 39 people were killed during the festival. In 2014, then 15-year-old Nilay Kulkarni decided to put his skills as a self-taught programmer to use by building a tech solution to help prevent stampedes. Learn more about his invention -- and how it helped the 2015 Nashik Kumbh Mela have zero stampedes and casualties.
- Software programmer
Nilay Kulkarni is the co-founder and chief technical officer of Ashioto Analytics, a real-time crowd flow analysis platform. Full bio

Double-click the English transcript below to play the video.

00:12
I was only nine
0
691
1278
00:13
when my grandfather first described to me
the horrors he witnessed six years earlier
1
1993
4923
00:18
when human stampedes killed 39 people
2
6940
2904
00:21
in our hometown of Nashik, India.
3
9868
2016
00:24
It was during the 2003 Nashik Kumbh Mela,
4
12461
3289
00:27
one of the world's largest
religious gatherings.
5
15774
2972
00:31
Every 12 years,
over 30 million Hindu worshippers
6
19213
3730
00:34
descend upon our city --
7
22967
1579
00:36
which is built
only for 1.5 million people --
8
24570
2840
00:39
and stay for 45 days.
9
27434
1643
00:41
The main purpose
is to wash away all their sins
10
29601
3071
00:44
by bathing in the river Godavari.
11
32696
2325
00:47
And stampedes may easily happen
12
35807
2238
00:50
because a high-density crowd
moves at a slow pace.
13
38069
3277
00:54
Apart from Nashik, this event happens
in three other places in India,
14
42002
4309
00:58
with varying frequency,
15
46335
1719
01:00
and between 2001 and 2014,
16
48078
2769
01:02
over 2,400 lives have been lost
in stampedes at these events.
17
50871
5498
01:09
What saddened me the most
18
57362
1857
01:11
is seeing people around me
resigning to the city's fate
19
59243
4515
01:15
in witnessing the seemingly
inevitable deaths of dozens
20
63782
3825
01:19
at every Kumbh Mela.
21
67631
1277
01:21
I sought to change this,
22
69448
1430
01:22
and I thought, why can't I try
to find a solution to this?
23
70902
2975
01:25
Because I knew it is wrong.
24
73901
1488
01:27
Having learned coding at an early age
and being a maker,
25
75701
3452
01:31
I considered the wild idea --
26
79177
1668
01:32
(Laughter)
27
80869
1188
01:34
[Makers always find a way]
28
82081
1385
01:35
I considered the wild idea
of building a system
29
83490
3065
01:38
that would help regulate
the flow of people
30
86579
2462
01:41
and use it in the next Kumbh Mela in 2015,
31
89065
2989
01:44
to have fewer stampedes
and, hopefully, fewer deaths.
32
92078
3605
01:48
It seemed like a mission impossible,
33
96177
2471
01:50
a dream too big,
34
98672
1768
01:52
especially for a 15-year-old,
35
100464
2181
01:54
yet that dream came true in 2015,
36
102669
3539
01:58
when not only did we succeed
37
106232
3693
02:01
in reducing the stampedes
and their intensity,
38
109949
2952
02:04
but we marked 2015
39
112925
2177
02:07
as the first Nashik Kumbh Mela
to have zero stampedes.
40
115126
4007
02:11
(Applause)
41
119596
5338
02:16
It was the first time in recorded history
42
124958
2486
02:19
that this event
passed without any casualties.
43
127468
2746
02:22
How did we do it?
44
130888
1150
02:24
It all started when I joined
an innovation workshop
45
132623
3031
02:27
by MIT Media Lab in 2014
46
135678
2676
02:30
called the Kumbhathon
47
138378
1969
02:32
that aimed at solving challenges
faced at the grand scale of Kumbh Mela.
48
140371
4404
02:37
Now, we figured out to solve
the stampede problem,
49
145784
4508
02:42
we wanted to know only three things:
50
150316
2164
02:44
the number of people, the location,
51
152504
2739
02:47
and the rate of the flow
of people per minute.
52
155267
3459
02:51
So we started to look for technologies
that would help us get these three things.
53
159241
4129
02:56
Can we distribute radio-frequency tokens
to identify people?
54
164091
4254
03:00
We figured out that it would
be too expensive and impractical
55
168369
3413
03:03
to distribute 30 million tags.
56
171806
1936
03:06
Can you use CCTV cameras
with image-processing techniques?
57
174545
3381
03:09
Again, too expensive for that scale,
58
177950
2047
03:12
along with the disadvantages
of being non-portable
59
180021
2878
03:14
and being completely useless
in the case of rain,
60
182923
2818
03:17
which is a common thing
to happen in Kumbh Mela.
61
185765
2382
03:21
Can we use cell phone tower data?
62
189120
2325
03:23
It sounds like the perfect solution,
63
191806
2467
03:26
but the funny part is,
64
194297
1773
03:28
most of the people
do not carry cell phones
65
196094
2745
03:30
in events like Kumbh Mela.
66
198863
1484
03:32
Also, the data wouldn't have been
granular enough for us.
67
200887
3714
03:36
So we wanted something that was real-time,
68
204625
2453
03:39
low-cost, sturdy and waterproof,
69
207102
3317
03:42
and it was easy to get
the data for processing.
70
210443
2411
03:45
So we built Ashioto,
71
213672
2356
03:48
meaning "footstep" in Japanese,
72
216052
2085
03:50
as it consists of a portable mat
which has pressure sensors
73
218161
4185
03:54
which can count the number
of people walking on it,
74
222370
2491
03:56
and sends the data over the internet
75
224885
2432
03:59
to the advanced data analysis
software we created.
76
227341
2547
04:02
The possible errors,
like overcounting or double-stepping,
77
230483
3288
04:05
were overcome using design interventions.
78
233795
2650
04:08
The optimum breadth of the mat
was determined to be 18 inches,
79
236803
3526
04:12
after we tested many different versions
80
240353
2239
04:14
and observed the average
stride length of a person.
81
242616
2587
04:18
Otherwise, people might step
over the sensor.
82
246111
2905
04:21
We started with a proof of concept
built in three days,
83
249040
2572
04:23
made out of cardboard and aluminum foil.
84
251636
2874
04:26
(Laughter)
85
254534
1001
04:27
It worked, for real.
86
255559
2374
04:29
We built another one
with aluminum composite panels
87
257957
2690
04:32
and piezoelectric plates,
88
260671
1638
04:34
which are plates that generate a small
pulse of electricity under pressure.
89
262333
3571
04:38
We tested this at 30 different
pilots in public,
90
266959
3269
04:42
in crowded restaurants,
in malls, in temples, etc.,
91
270252
3722
04:45
to see how people reacted.
92
273998
1634
04:48
And people let us run these pilots
93
276720
2023
04:50
because they were excited to see localites
work on problems for the city.
94
278767
6476
04:57
I was 15 and my team members
were in their early 20s.
95
285680
3119
05:01
When the sensors were colored,
96
289736
4491
05:06
people would get scared
and would ask us questions like,
97
294251
2841
05:09
"Will I get electrocuted
if I step on this?"
98
297116
2207
05:11
(Laughter)
99
299347
1001
05:12
Or, if it was very obvious that it was
an electronic sensor on the ground,
100
300372
4372
05:16
they would just jump over it.
101
304768
1493
05:18
(Laughter)
102
306285
1076
05:19
So we decided to design
a cover for the sensor
103
307385
3064
05:22
so that people don't have to worry
what it is on the ground.
104
310473
3057
05:25
So after some experimentation,
105
313554
1976
05:27
we decided to use an industrial sensor,
106
315554
2810
05:30
used as a safety trigger
in hazardous areas
107
318388
2969
05:33
as the sensor,
108
321381
1151
05:34
and a black neoprene rubber sheet
109
322556
2081
05:36
as the cover.
110
324661
1242
05:38
Now, another added benefit
of using black rubber
111
326374
2817
05:41
was that dust naturally
accumulates over the surface,
112
329215
3627
05:44
eventually camouflaging it
with the ground.
113
332866
2650
05:47
We also had to make sure that the sensor
is no higher than 12 millimeters.
114
335540
5112
05:53
Otherwise, people might trip over it,
115
341206
2229
05:55
which in itself would cause stampedes.
116
343459
1905
05:57
(Laughter)
117
345792
3787
06:01
We don't want that.
118
349603
1362
06:02
(Laughter)
119
350989
1789
06:04
So we were able to design a sensor
which was only 10 millimeters thick.
120
352802
4079
06:09
Now the data is sent
to the server in real time,
121
357469
2240
06:11
and a heat map is plotted,
122
359733
1648
06:13
taking into account
all the active devices on the ground.
123
361405
3343
06:16
The authorities could be alerted
if the crowd movement slowed down
124
364772
4285
06:21
or if the crowd density
moved beyond a desired threshold.
125
369081
3135
06:24
We installed five of these mats
in the Nashik Kumbh Mela 2015,
126
372992
4992
06:30
and counted over half a million people
127
378008
2390
06:32
in 18 hours,
128
380422
1682
06:34
ensuring that the data was available
in real time at various checkpoints,
129
382128
4377
06:38
ensuring a safe flow of people.
130
386529
1876
06:40
Now, this system, eventually,
with other innovations,
131
388429
3445
06:43
is what helped prevent stampedes
altogether at that festival.
132
391898
3152
06:47
The code used by Ashioto during Kumbh Mela
133
395585
2873
06:50
will soon be made publicly available,
free to use for anyone.
134
398482
3412
06:53
I would be glad if someone used this code
135
401918
1977
06:55
to make many more gatherings safer.
136
403919
2212
06:58
Having succeeded at Kumbh Mela
137
406878
1926
07:00
has inspired me to help others
who may also suffer from stampedes.
138
408828
3912
07:04
The design of the system
makes it adaptable
139
412764
2809
07:07
to pretty much any event
140
415597
1994
07:09
that involves an organized
gathering of people.
141
417615
3796
07:13
And my new dream is to improve,
adapt and deploy the system
142
421435
4310
07:17
all over the world to prevent loss of life
and ensure a safe flow of people,
143
425769
5469
07:23
because every human soul is precious,
144
431262
2787
07:26
whether at concerts or sporting events,
145
434073
2378
07:28
the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad,
146
436475
1887
07:30
the Hajj in Mecca,
147
438386
1451
07:31
the Shia procession to Karbala
148
439861
1897
07:33
or at the Vatican City.
149
441782
1484
07:35
So what do you all think, can we do it?
150
443893
1877
07:37
(Audience) Yes!
151
445794
1151
07:38
Thank you.
152
446969
1151
07:40
(Cheers)
153
448144
1001
07:41
(Applause)
154
449169
3270

▲Back to top

ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Nilay Kulkarni - Software programmer
Nilay Kulkarni is the co-founder and chief technical officer of Ashioto Analytics, a real-time crowd flow analysis platform.

Why you should listen

Nilay Kulkarni started developing software at the age of 14. In collaboration with the MIT Media Lab, he used his skills as a self-taught programmer to build a simple tech solution to prevent human stampedes during the Kumbh Mela, one of the world's largest crowd gatherings, in India. Now 17 years old, he is the co-founder and chief technical officer of Ashioto Analytics.

More profile about the speaker
Nilay Kulkarni | Speaker | TED.com