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Japanese Expo Opens But Not Without Hitch : Crowd Size Uncertain Due to High-Tech Glitch

March 18, 1985|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

TSUKUBA, Japan — Expo '85, a 184-day world's fair devoted to science and high technology, opened its gates to the public Sunday and immediately encountered two problems.

The Expo Assn. could do nothing about one of them, rain and cold weather. A mini-monorail, a Ferris wheel and rides in the exposition's amusement park all had to be shut down at midday.

The other problem--foul-ups in the association's own high-tech system for counting the number of visitors--caused red faces at Expo headquarters.

At 7 p.m., when gates closed for the day, the association pulled out of its computer information showing that 66,945 persons had entered the 250-acre fairgrounds here, 38 miles northeast of Tokyo, and announced that figure to the press. Forty-five minutes later, however, officials discovered that computers had recorded 81,657 persons leaving the fairgrounds.

The association decided, at least for the time being, to establish the higher figure--about 10,000 more people than had been expected on opening day--as the official first-day attendance count.

Entrance Gates Too Wide

Yoshihiro Ogura, director of the exposition's information and communications system, told reporters that the fair's entrance gates had been designed too wide to ensure that only one person at a time passed through laser beams entrusted with doing the counting. As a result, if two people entered close together, the computers registered only a single visitor, he said.

Departures were more orderly, he added, making the departure figure the more accurate one.

Even more embarrassing was the discovery that a separate information system inside the fairgrounds contained a fault in the software. That system was designed to let visitors use computers to find out how many visitors were at the fair at any given time.

The software was programmed to revert to zero whenever the number of visitors reached 65,000, Expo officials discovered. The trouble came to light when display screens at the 38 information centers scattered throughout the fairgrounds simultaneously began to record "zero" when visitors punched computer devices asking for the information.

In effect, Expo officials had to admit that they weren't sure how many people actually paid to attend the first day, and they were still at work late into the night trying to come up with an accurate count.

No other first-day hitches were reported, although advance publicity for some pavilions helped create waiting times of as much as 2 1/2 to three hours for visitors to some attractions.

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