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Change in design of doors can prevent stampedes: physicist

Panaji: A team of physicists of the Indian Institute of Science (IIS), Bangalore, which conducted extensive research on Swarm Intelligence and Flocking Behaviour, has helped in finding a solution to real-life situations like deadly stampedes or controlling traffic.

Delivering a lecture on his team’s research, at the inaugural ceremony of Manohar Parrikar Vidnayan Mahotsav, Ajay Kumar Sood, professor in the Department of Physics at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, explained how physics, more than psychology, influences crowd behaviour and leads to its application in many areas like artificial intelligence and crowd control simulation to help prevent deadly stampedes.

He said the research can also help design safe evacuation procedures for events and locations that witness high footfalls including traffic management. “This can help to simulate ‘what if’ scenarios and the consequences if these events occur,” he said. He said Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holiest city, is visited by millions of pilgrims every year. In 2015, a stampede caused death of over 2,000 pilgrims during the annual pilgrimage and such incidents can be prevented in future using this model.

“Bacterial colonies, schools of fish, flocking birds, swarming insects and vehicle flow were chosen as a model active system to study which of these are sensitive to changes in the surrounding environment. The crowd often has different behaviour to the individuals within it. In flocking simulations, there is no central control; each bird behaves autonomously. In other words, each bird has to decide for itself which flocks to consider as its environment,” he said.

Sood also explained the rules for how individuals act within a crowd and used that behaviour to describe crowd motion. “In our study, we have tried to understand flocking behaviour by working with inanimate asymmetric brass rods made active by placing them on rapidly vibrating surface amongst spherical beads. When one bead moves, it takes a second one with it and influences a third one and moves in a circular manner obeying a physic law. However, to find out the rules of motion for individuals gathering or dispersing in response to external factors, we placed speckle beam pattern which disordered the attractive potential and caused the colloids to disperse from the area,” he said.

“This experiment showed us that if there is a casual person in a crowd, he doesn’t get trapped but person with persistence can easily get trapped. Another outcome of the research was that a change in design of the doors and windows can significantly reduce chances of stampede.

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