#Oxford app helps avoid lockdown crowds

Keep safe, keep your distance – but keep on the go in the lockdown with Crowdless (crowdlessapp.co), a real-time app designed by an Oxford post-graduate student and other young entrepreneurs – and backed by the Oxford venture-supporting Foundry.

Launched in the last week, the free app was designed by Alex Barnes, an Oxford DPhil student in international development, and his group in just three days. Using anonymised data, Crowdless allows users to see if their local supermarket is crowded – so you can check before you leave the house whether the queue goes round the block and, if so, go somewhere else.

Crowdless was created under the auspices of Lanterne, a UK-based social enterprise, led by Alex and a group of collaborators, including researchers and students from other UK institutions. One of the team, Sebastian Müller, says: “Lanterne has always been about helping people to stay safe, and the pandemic is arguably one of the biggest safety threats right now. Focusing on building something that helps people to cope with the current situation was therefore only logical.”

According to Alex: “We were keen to see what we could do to help in the current circumstances, and we came up with Crowdless. We think it will be extremely useful for people who need to travel to shops and grocery stores, but are trying to do social distancing effectively to protect themselves and the wider population.”

The app they have created works globally, helping people all over the world to maintain social distancing, keeping themselves and others safe. Alex adds: “It’s all very early days but our biggest number of users so far have been in Germany and Spain.”

Crowdless is very much rooted in the conflict-zone work Alex has been undertaking for his DPhil in international development. Before the crisis, he had been planning to travel to Colombia to work on an app which would help users avoid potential harmful situations. But, the know-how he and his team have gathered, enabled them to come up with a crowd, rather than conflict, avoiding app.

Crowdless does not collect users’ personal information. Location information is collected on an opt-in basis, only for the purpose of providing relevant results. It uses a combination of existing data sources and crowdsourced data.

Lanterne has received ‘amazing’ support from the Foundry, which was set up in 2017 to help new ventures such as this get off the ground. Lanterne participated in the All-Innovate competition at the Foundry in 2019, winning the best post-graduate idea award. More recently, Alex presented Lanterne at the Oxford Saïd Entrepreneurship Forum in March 2020.The Foundry has established a Coivd-19 action plan aimed at helping ventures which are responding to the pandemic.