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Tracking devices installed around Kalamazoo Mall

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Perhaps you've noticed little devices attached to street lamps along the Kalamazoo Mall over the past month or two.

But what are they?

Those little nodes are essentially people counters, made by a Michigan-based company called Wayn Wi-Fi.

As you walk around downtown, the boxes can wirelessly pinpoint your location and movement on a real-time map.

We're told it's the wave of the future, brand new technology that can totally transform the way a town operates.

Little red dots on the map are people. If you're carrying a smart phone with you that's set to automatically search for Wi-Fi it'll ping the nearest node. 

The 20 nodes all over downtown work together to create a second-by-second map.

"This would be very good data for them to know how many people are coming downtown, what hours they're coming downtown and where they're going while they're downtown," said Rob Peterson of Downtown Kalamazoo Inc.

Wayn Wi-Fi compiles all that data so organizations like Downtown Kalamazoo Incorporated can track the flow of people. Specifically, how many first-time visitors are on the mall, how long does a person dwell in any particular store and how do those stats break down hour-by-hour.

"That's valuable information. If another store does not have the same dwell time they could look at what the other stores are doing and maybe emulate some of those tactics," said Peterson.

The Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo says those stats could help plan events, like the monthly Art Hop.

"We've always guessed by visual observation that we've had 5,000 or 6,000 people on a large Art Hop but in December we found we had over 8,000 people in downtown Kalamazoo, so that was tremendous for us to learn ," said Beth McCann of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.

"From an events standpoint, it's really about numbers. We need to track the number of people that attend an event. Sponsors want to know that, vendors want to know that and it really helps us also create relevance," said Deb Droppers of The Event Company.

If you're worried about big brother watching you, Wayn Wi-Fi says that's not the case. They do not collect or sell any personal information from your ping.

"This is completely anonymous. We would not have done it had it not been anonymous. So you're just simply a little blip on the map to us. We don't have any of the data it comes to us in numerical form so all we know is how long you've been here and how many people per zone," said Beth McCann.

We should mention that we talked to a handful of shoppers downtown while shooting this story. Most told us they thought this kind of technology was interesting, and since the boxes don't collect private information, they weren't really worried about them.

The Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo says it hopes to continue using these devices in the futures, if they can secure the funding.