Staying far from the crowd

25 May 2020

"At ANU, the door was opened to a world of different ideas and frameworks. From law to economics and post-modern philosophy, these frameworks have helped expand the toolbox I use to analyse problems,"

Social distancing is one of the key measures that is helping us all in our fight against COVID-19. While the world adjusts to a new reality, many entrepreneurs and innovators are developing tools to help people stay safe while going about their lives. One such technological innovation is Crowdless -- a phone app that helps people know whether a supermarket is crowded.

"Our app helps people navigate safely. With real-time info on how crowded supermarkets are, users can choose less busy alternatives or less busy times to visit," says Yohan Iddawela LLB '12, BA (Hons) '13.

Crowdless is developed by UK-based start-up Lanterne, co-founded by Yohan and Alex Barnes BA (Hons) '10 along with data scientist, Sebastian Mueller.

Yohan and Alex had identified a need for technology to help international workers navigate safely through conflict zones.

"We were developing an app to help people in Colombia navigate safely when COVID-19 hit. The country went into full lockdown, and we had to re-apply our skillset in crisis technology to help with the current pandemic. And Crowdless was born," said Yohan.

"The app combines existing third party data sources with crowdsourced data," said Alex.

Crowdless is completely free and has global coverage. Users are not required to register or log in to the app to take advantage of it.

"We don't store personally identifiable data from our users," said Yohan.

Though they are both ANU alumni, the duo met at the London School of Economics -- where Alex completed his MSc in Comparative Politics (Conflict Studies) and Yohan is currently studying for a PhD in Economic Geography.

"We had both done short stints in Afghanistan as part of our work, and we wanted to help improve people's awareness of security issues in conflict zones," said Alex.

After graduating from ANU, Alex worked at the Australian Department of Defence as an analyst and at a leading political risk firm in London, and is now completing a PhD in International Development at the University of Oxford. Yohan has worked in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and subsequently worked in the international development field.

Both have fond memories of ANU and credit their time as students in helping them with their careers. "ANU provides a first class environment for intellectual debate, exploration and discovery. The writing and research skills I developed at ANU have been highly valuable to me throughout my career," said Alex.

Yohan Iddawela close-up portrait
Yohan Iddawela

Yohan enjoyed DJing techno music at the ANU Bar along with the rigours of student life. He feels he picked up a lot of skills that help him solve complex problems.

“At ANU, the door was opened to a world of different ideas and frameworks. From law to economics and post-modern philosophy, these frameworks have helped expand the toolbox I use to analyse problems,” said Yohan.

Their advice to students is mainly around standing out from the crowd.

“Don’t take a job because it’s prestigious and because other people place value on it. Also, expect to fail and make mistakes,” said Yohan. “Develop the skillset of rebounding from failure and learning from mistakes.”

Alex puts a premium on participating in extra-curricular activities, forming friendships, and exploring professional opportunities well before graduating.

“Pursue academic excellence, but don't let your studies interfere with your education,” said Alex.

Crowdless is available to download on the App Store and Play Store and has coverage in Australia. See for more information.

Page owner: Alumni