Extending Resiliency Planning Through In-House Software Development & Coding
How Entuitive’s software development capabilities extend the functionality of off-the-shelf tools and enable better service for our clients.
Matthew Smith leads Entuitive’s Pedestrian Modelling and Fire Engineering teams. One program these teams leverage is called MassMotion, which is used to simulate pedestrian flows and analyze crowd movement. MassMotion is an award-winning, innovative software program – the best in the industry.
Despite their use of advanced modelling software, Matt and his team sometimes need more functionality than what the tool offers. In these instances, Matt has relied on Entuitive’s in-house software development capabilities to extend the functionality of existing tools and produce more value for our clients.
“We’re using the latest and greatest software program available on the market,” Matt explains. “Then, we’re going beyond that and building out our own features in-house to extend the utility of the tool to solve unique problems and deliver more value to clients.”
In this discussion, we examine two scenarios where in-house coding expertise enabled Entuitive to push software programs further and deliver more value.
COVID-19 Resilience: Proximity Analysis in Pedestrian Simulations
When COVID-19 first came to North America and businesses closed their doors to reduce transmission risk, we were all uncertain about how to return to normal. Our clients wanted a way to understand how people moved through their facilities, and what that meant for mitigating the risk of virus transmission.
Matt realized that this was an opportunity to build new functionality into the MassMotion tool. He wanted to track the proximity of the people within his simulated pedestrian model. He also wanted to provide a visual cue to indicate that proximity when looking at the simulation.
“To accomplish this, we coded the feature ourselves,” Matt reveals. “We looked at every time step of the model and evaluated the spacing between each person in the simulation. We then coloured each person to indicate how close they were to one another.”
“The agents are blue to start,” he continues, “and as they move closer to one another, they move to yellow and orange. Finally, once they’re within six feet of one another, they turn red.” The colours and distances were all customizable based on the specific visuals and distance recommendations the user wanted to demonstrate.
This feature was a gamechanger for clients who wanted to understand how their customers moved through their facilities during the pandemic. Now, they could test different scenarios for configuring their facilities or for operating at different capacities and evaluate which option minimized transmission risk. This also gave confidence to the customers, who wanted to know that the facilities they inhabited had been assessed for their safety.
Ultimately, MassMotion implemented its own colouring feature, thus proving its value; clearly, many of the MassMotion end users requested it. This also validated the benefits of having software development capabilities in-house. Entuitive had also begun looking at the “social forces model” within MassMotion to model agents proactively trying to distance themselves based on current guidance or empirical observations. This is another feature that a MassMotion update later included.
Being able to code into the software lets us go under the hood of the tool and add more functionality, without having to wait for the developer to add that functionality themselves. This lets us be more adaptive in the face of uncertain market conditions and enables us to deliver more value to our clients.
The figure below shows a contour plot, referred to as a Level of Service heat map, that was featured in one of Entuitive’s Spotlight Features in August 2020.
This is a standard output of MassMotion and many other software programs. This heat map conveys the density of pedestrian flows in each area; the blue shows the lowest density and the red shows highest.
Matt tells me that the standard approach with Level of Service heat maps is to assess them qualitatively. “Originally, we would qualitatively compare these different maps. We would look at two different maps and observe which areas were more or less congested in either scenario.”
The challenge with this qualitative approach is that it’s harder to compare two or more different design scenarios. If we had some way to quantify the different areas, we then would have a measurable way of saying that one approach is better than another.
Matt was able to resolve this challenge through the PALLETTE project.
“PALLETE allows us to bring a quantitative assessment to this approach,” Matt says. “Through this tool, we can take an image like the Level of Service heat map and receive an output that indicates the percentage of each colour within the plot.”
For Matt and his team, this opened the door for efficiently assessing alternative floors or design scenarios. “Now, we can take different options, run them all through MassMotion to obtain the heat maps, and then run them through PALLETTE to conclude which option is advantageous.”
You can apply this technique to any input that involves a contour plot – anywhere you have a colour gradient, this method could be used. It could therefore be applied to the contour plots from other software programs that Entuitive uses. For example, the CSI SAFE program produces a contour plot for slab deflections. Finite element software, such as CSI Sap2000, produce contour plots for stresses that can be quantified. Building envelope analysis also typically produces contour plots of temperature gradients that can be quantified, and with different options compared. For any output like this, you can quantify the different percentages and use this to inform design.
What Does This Mean for the Engineers of the Future?
These examples provide a brief glimpse into the value that can arise by combining new competencies, such as coding, on top of a traditional technical engineering skillset. This alludes to a bigger change within the landscape of engineering moving forward. As the world continues to become more digitally enabled, the opportunities to leverage technology-based skills within engineering teams will grow more prominent.
Blaine Jansen leads Entuitive’s Innovation team and shared some details on how a collection of capabilities are fundamental to enabling innovation at scale.
“As we developed Entuitive’s Innovation Strategy, we knew that our value lies in our people.” Blaine shares. “So when we are thinking about the ‘engineer of the future,’ it’s about taking stock of where we’re at as an organization and as an industry, and then envisioning what skills might be important years from now in ways that ensure repeatable success.”
As structures increase in complexity and resilience needs, thinking outside the box, such as by combining skills or learning new technology skills, will prove key for the engineer of the future.