After more than a semester of development, a team of 10 undergraduates and one graduate student within the Cornell Design and Tech Initiative released an app that allows the user to preview the crowd density of Cornell campus facilities without having to physically visit.
Using current and historical ID swipe data provided by Cornell IT, Flux’s algorithm makes estimations of how many people are in a certain facility at a given time and presents crowd density information in a way that users can understand. At the time of writing, Flux provides data from all ten of the All You Care To Eat dining rooms as well as Cafe Jennie and Libe Cafe.
An older version of the app was released last December under the name Density, which was intended to gain feedback from the general student population outside of DTI. However, because of legal issues, they were forced to temporarily halt distribution and revise their brand.
“Over the break, we actually received a cease-and-desist from a company called Density.io,” said Andrew Xiao ’20, technical product manager of Flux. Xiao explained that the company, which is based in San Francisco, does the same thing as Flux but uses hardware.
“They hang these sensors above doorways that count people going in and out of rooms anonymously, and so in exchange for changing our name to Flux, they would be able to provide us with some free hardware for three years,” Xiao said.
According to product manager Neha Rao ‘20, “[this setback] gave us a chance to rethink what our vision was, what we thought was important and also gave us an extra semester’s time to really fix any bugs, [and] make all the improvements we wanted.” In her words, the current iteration of Flux is “a lot better” than the version from December.
Xiao first envisioned Flux in the fall of 2017 during the interview process for DTI. “They asked me for one of [my] app ideas, and I came up with that,” Xiao said. He cited the crowdsourced traffic app, Waze, as inspiration.
Soon after, Xiao and a few other DTI members began work on a Flux precursor. Xiao explained that “during the finals season of the fall 2017 semester, we had DTI members sit in eHub, take shifts, and just walk around every fifteen minutes, and count the people in there and then log it and report it to a website, and then we advertised the website, [and] had people check on it.”
It was around this time that other members of DTI, including Rao, joined the project. “Basically, the whole idea of the project team is to build apps, mobile and web, for the Cornell community … so we all were either assigned to Flux, or we chose it,” Rao said.
Currently, the app is a minimum viable product, which, as designer Kathy Wang grad explained, is a very early version that is released for the public to “test” — giving developers feedback to iterate from in the future.
However, the team has many ambitious plans for further development. “The completed form of Flux would incorporate all the dining facilities, all the fitness facilities [and]… a lot of the study spots,” Xiao said. The team hopes to include even large, open spaces such as Olin Library and Duffield Hall, where students do not have to swipe an I.D.
Ultimately, the team hopes to bring Flux to other college campuses. However, there are some significant challenges.
“[Flux is] so exclusive to the Cornell campus that it’d be hard to move elsewhere,” said Xiao. He said the issue was in “counting swipes and potentially looking into WiFi connections for how many people are in the library,” as schools may have different systems.
For now, the team does not intend to rush development. “We’d like to expand, and we’d also eventually like to expand to different campuses, but we know that we should probably get our stuff right on this campus before we expand,” designer Kaitlyn Son ‘19 said.