North­eastern Uni­ver­sity student-​​researchers have cre­ated tech­nology designed to gather more mean­ingful infor­ma­tion on cus­tomer habits, inven­tory and fire safety in retail stores such as CVS, Stop & Shop and The Home Depot.

The technology—which was devel­oped as a Col­lege of Engi­neering senior cap­stone project—is part of an emerging part­ner­ship between North­eastern, Shanghai Jiao Tong Uni­ver­sity and Tyco Inter­na­tional, Inc., a global man­u­fac­turing company.

Tyco, which orga­nized the project, is the world’s largest provider to retailers of anti-​​theft loss pre­ven­tion, safety and secu­rity solutions.

In April, Tyco exec­u­tives met with mem­bers of Northeastern’s senior lead­er­ship team, toured campus and attended the cap­stone pre­sen­ta­tion, which included a video chat with engi­neering stu­dents in Shanghai who helped com­plete the project from some 7,200 miles away.

We think we have tremen­dous poten­tial to find great talent at North­eastern to help our orga­ni­za­tion around the globe,” Shelley Stewart, BS’75, MS’78, Tyco’s senior vice pres­i­dent of oper­a­tional excel­lence and chief pro­cure­ment officer, told students.

We’re glad you worked in a col­lab­o­ra­tive way,” he said. “That’s what the world today is all about.”

Over a four-​​month period, stu­dents in Boston and Shanghai devel­oped a proof of con­cept using Snell Library as a mock retail store.

Stu­dents dis­played all of the infor­ma­tion — including the loca­tion of books, com­puters and fire alarms — on dig­i­tized heat maps with geo­graphic coor­di­nates. The system, said project man­ager Samuel Bar, a senior indus­trial engi­neering major, could make for a strong fire safety application.

If there’s a fire, you can see what type of prod­ucts are in that par­tic­ular area,” said Bar, who plans to join the Peace Corps. “If there are books, then fire­fighters might use one type of tactic, but if there are com­puters, they might use a dif­ferent strategy.”

Com­bining all of the infor­ma­tion on one map, said senior indus­trial engi­neering major Rebecca Payne, would make it easier for Tyco’s retail part­ners to run their busi­nesses. They cur­rently use three inde­pen­dent data­bases to track inven­tory, point of pur­chase and access control.

Instead of studying inven­tory pat­terns or point of pur­chase, you could com­bine that together to get a whole new view of the busi­ness,” said Payne, who is moving to Los Angeles in July to work in orga­ni­za­tional devel­op­ment for Staples.

From a prac­tical per­spec­tive,” she said, “it allows the data to speak and for you to make better busi­ness decisions.”

Good com­mu­ni­ca­tion was key to com­pleting the project, said Bar, who used his expe­ri­ence on co-​​op at a plas­tics and elec­tronics fac­tory in China to manage the part­ner­ship with their Shanghai teammates.

Dealing with the intri­ca­cies of a dif­ferent cul­ture is chal­lenging,” he said, “espe­cially when doling out assign­ments or writing instructions.”