In and Out of the Fishbowl


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Aquarium’s dolphin show used logistics experts to manage crowd

The Georgia Aquarium’s new 1,800-seat of AT&T Dolphin Tales exhibit needed to figure out how to move visitors in and out through the same set of doors.

Naturally, officials turned to logistics. And Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial and Systems Engineering came through.

IE professor Eva K. Lee and graduate student Chien Hung Chen studied how guests move throughput the entire aquarium and created RealOpt-ABM, a large-scale decision support software suite. The software predicted guest flow through the new exhibit and how it would affect other areas. Researchers were able to devise strategies for show scheduling, resource allocation, space usage, theater loading and unloading, the optimal number and location of ticket scanners and traffic controllers and the best time to open theater doors to minimize waiting time and queue length.

The study even predicted that the Dolphin Tales lobby, where visitors can come face to face with dolphins through a 25-foot viewing window, would be packed with baby strollers unless the aquarium offered valet stroller parking in the main lobby.

Lee said the software succeeded because it integrated simulation and optimization with human cognitive and behavioral elements. The software’s computational speed allowed for on-the-fly reconfigurations. Facility layout, physical design and activities at specific points of interest were captured in sub-models, which were aggregated and coupled to form the overall model.

Aquarium official said the predictions and recommendation were accurate, and they implemented them in the operations design of the theater.