Head Count App Created to Help University Students Serves New Need Amid Pandemic

Students at several universities already use the Waitz App to find less crowded study spaces on campus, but with social distancing and capacity protocols in place at restaurants and grocery stores, the creator realized there's another way it can help

NBC Universal, Inc.

Wouldn’t you love the convenience of checking how long the wait at the grocery store is before going? Or how busy a gym is?

By now, we've all experienced how social distancing can make normal errands a little more tedious. Well, a newly-popular app aims to help out.

With social distancing and capacity limits in place, restaurants and retail stores can fill up quickly.

UC San Diego student Rebecca Vanstory uses the Waitz app to gauge how busy places are on campus, to keep herself safe.

“I’m very anxious about getting coronavirus,” said Vanstory. “So I can tell where on campus I can’t be during the day when I’m trying to study at school.”

UCSD grad Nic Halverson created the app before the pandemic hit. A few years ago while trying to find a place to study, he grew frustrated when he discovered most everywhere was packed with students.

“I wish I knew how busy every floor was before I came. And that was kinda the lightbulb moment,” said Halverson.

He created a sensor called Occuspace that plugs into a normal electrical outlet. It scans for Bluetooth and WIFI signals in the area to estimate how many people are present.

Students like the idea especially when things pick up again.

 “There’s not a lot of people on campus but the amenities are opening. I heard the gym is opening,” said Jayden Ha.

Right now it’s 90% accurate, Halverson said. He also told NBC 7 he is expanding the technology to retail businesses, restaurants and grocery stores.

“When you go out to get a cup of coffee, or a meal or go to the grocery store, you’ll be able to see how busy it is, too. That’s the dream,” said Halverson.

Businesses can integrate the data into their own apps or websites, and won’t be using the Waitz App.

“We can alert them in real-time, saying, 'Hey, your space is too crowded, you have to stop letting people in,'” said Halverson.

It’s become increasingly important for health and safety, which is something students can appreciate.

“It seems very helpful with the whole quarantine and the whole pandemic going on,” said student Kenneth Morales.

Halverson told NBC 7 Occuspace does not collect or store any personal information. The technology is in a pilot phase at several fortune 500 companies.

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