The researchers at the Polytechnic School of the University of Sao Paulo created virtual people who, through artificial intelligence, would attempt to get away from a threat and exit a building as quickly as possible, NewScientist.com reported Wednesday.
Professor Luciano Soares and his students found by varying the kinds of threat, the number of people and their emotional level they could determine how crowds might react in different emergency situations.
They discovered, for example, their virtual people tended to evacuate a building more quickly when faced with a fire than when there was flooding.
This was likely because fire has a single point of origin people can identify and flee from and because they recognize fire as a more immediate and deadly threat, they said.
A version of the program running on a tablet computer can be used by emergency planners as they walk through existing buildings, the researchers said, and using the tablet's built-in camera to film a room or hallway can superimpose virtual people on the space in real time, providing evidence of how a real crowd might behave in that space in an emergency.
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