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Penn State Senior Implementing New Approach & Technology To Estimate Downtown Bar Wait Times

Nicholas Cole, a senior computer science major at Penn State, is aiming to put a new spin on a frequently faced problem in the State College area: predicting bar wait times.

Using statistical trends gathered every night, Cole created a system to accurately predict the wait times for 11 bars in downtown State College and implemented the technology into the website and app Bool.

The trends, coupled with a group of coworkers constantly monitoring the lines from nearby, enabled Bool to transform from a prospering startup into a useful application for thousands of college students to utilize on nights out.

“The idea of predicting bar times in State College isn’t exactly new… This time, my friends and I and my team thought we could actually make it happen by applying a couple of different technologies that others haven’t tried before,” Cole said. “We saw that the other options for trying to predict how long lines are or to skip the line entirely were missing some features, so we decided to try and do this.”

To collect the data and trends, Cole and his team decided to take a new-age out-of-the-box approach and employ Bluetooth. Cole said that rather unknowingly, individuals’ cell phones and Apple Watches constantly project Bluetooth signals or advertising packets.

These packets, which contain no personal information, according to Cole, can be easily picked up and gathered using another piece of technology Cole and his team drive around State College.

“That technology has actually been used in other areas and other industries for crowd-level estimation before, but it hasn’t really been applied to estimate bar lines… So we did that and it became one of the ways that we have quickly been able to collect a lot of information from the start,” Cole said. “From this, we can see the amount of people in line, the length of the line, how close people are together, and how fast people are moving. That’s how we estimate how long it may take to wait in line.”

While the website is still being developed and perfected, Bool is only continuing to grow. If all goes to plan for Cole and his team at Bool, a social media app will be tentatively released on the App Store and be available for download on Saturday, April 13.

“We are looking into adding a lot of features as time goes on. One thing that we specifically want to add is to give the bars a way to advertise what they are doing on specific nights to our users that visit our site,” Cole said.

These advertisements could include special-themed nights, drink and food specials, or specific live bands slated to perform.

“We are working on Instagram integration so you can check out advertisements and deals for the bars you are going to while you wait in line,” Cole said. “Our goal is to help the community, especially the smaller bars in State College, get their name out there and get people to see what those bars are like, especially transient customers.”

Cole is searching to reach State College’s short-term visitors, be it for sporting events, work conferences, or parents’ weekends, to feel connected with Happy Valley’s downtown bar scene.

“For example, Arts Fest weekend and things like that, you have these people traveling to State College and looking for places to stay and go to get a sense of our culture right away. This is why we want to allow bars to share posts and descriptions about their place to draw in transient customers looking for the true State College feel,” Cole said.

Over the summer, Cole and his team were selected to participate in Invent Penn State, an entrepreneurship program held annually at the university. This year, Cole was chosen to be a part of the Summer Founders program, which supplies finance and mentorship opportunities to startups like Bool.

“All of the chosen teams work together collaboratively on their projects during the summer, full time… This year, we’re in that program, and we are going to spend that time just building things out even more,” Cole said.

While Cole is a senior, his plans for the future of Bool remain unwavering as he aspires to showcase the culture and distinction of State College across all ages for years to come.

“I was born and raised here in State College, so burning out the culture of this local community is one of my main goals here with Bool… I want to provide a place where anybody can see where their friends are, what is happening in the town, and what spots they can go to,” Cole said. “Most students aren’t even aware of the smaller bars here. That’s why my goal is to provide something to the students while also reflecting the culture of State College.”

Folks can check in on estimated wait times at Doggies, Pickles, Champs, Sharkies, Brothers, Antifragile, Phyrst, Cafe 210 West, Shandygaff, Jax, and Zeno’s on Bool’s website.

“I want to make the State College and Penn State experience just a little bit richer for everybody involved,” Cole said.

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About the Author

Brendan Wagner

Brendan is a Junior majoring in print and media journalism. Born in Pittsburgh, he now lives in Mooresville, North Carolina. As a die-hard Pittsburgh sports fan, you can find him on Twitter, @brchwags, often complaining about the Pittsburgh Steelers and probably Russell Wilson.

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