Technology Developed at Stevens Monitors Available Seating

Seatfinder monitors seating remotely so patrons can check for availability before they leave home

5/14/2012

When students at Stevens Institute of Technology want to meet and study or plan their senior design project, they tend to head for the S.C. Williams Library. Unfortunately, during the busiest periods of the semester, it can be difficult to find a seat. “We noticed that we and many of our fellow students spent precious study time looking for seating in the library,” says team leader and computer engineer Richard Sanchez. Rather than simply grumble and head back to their dormitories, his team dedicated their capstone senior design project to wiring the library with Seatfinder, an innovative way of detecting seat availabilities in the library utilizing image processing to identify the presence of a person in a seat.
 
“The Seatfinder team exemplifies the initiative and entrepreneurial spirit of our students,” says Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science. “They take four years of hard work, and apply all that they've learned to solve really difficult problems in truly creative ways.”
 
SeatFinder will increase student productivity by maximizing study time and reducing time spent searching for available space. The team hopes to add more cameras and monitor more tables to increase the utility and sophistication of their system. “The scalability of this project is immense,” says electrical engineering major Tony Dominguez. Eventually, the Seatfinder team envisions moving to other venues where space can become scarce, such as restaurants, movie theatres, or parking lots. If the technology is widely adopted, the frustration and disappointment of being turned away at the door or driving endlessly around a lot could become a thing of the past.
 
The Seatfinder group consisted of Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering and Computer Science majors. Because their project had both a major electrical engineering component and a programming component, the students saw a tremendous advantage in having an interdisciplinary team. “We’re such a diverse group,” says David Leon, electrical engineer. “Working with [students from other disciplines] gives me a greater understanding of their background and gives me a fresh approach to other problems,” says Henry Vizuete, electrical engineer.
 
With the assistance of their advisor, Professor Bruce McNair, Distinguished Service Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, and the Stevens IT department, the team chose an IP camera with network connectivity to capture a live MJPEG feed in the library. “The senior design project is the students’ opportunity to get as close as they can to real-world work experience,” says Professor McNair.
 
The team’s design approach consisted of four major phases through which the system loops in order to monitor seating: Capture, Detect, Process and Update.
 
In the Capture phase, the IP Camera connects to the Stevens Wired Network and transmits a live video feed to a remote computer using an open source application called iSpy. During the “detect” phase a Motion Detection region is established behind an individual’s chair, triggering a snapshot of the live camera feed any time an individual leaves or enters the table. The team’s code then processes the image, separating it into four quadrants—one for each seat—and determining if each quadrant is free or occupied. It then updates the website with an image that correctly represents occupied and empty chairs around a table.
 
“To see our interface changing constantly based on what’s happening in the library is an amazing accomplishment,” says Amilcar Javier, Computer Engineering and Computer Science major. “It’s a great feeling to solve a math problem, but solving a life problem with math, programming and engineering skills is something else entirely.”