Placemeter wants to know how crowded a place is before you go - Technical.ly Brooklyn

Feb. 24, 2014 12:45 pm

Placemeter wants to know how crowded a place is before you go

According to Placemeter, by counting people and vehicles moving around outside, it's possible to get good estimates of how long customers will have to wait if they decide to go inside a business.
From a video on Placemeter’s Vimeo page, showing counts in action.

From a video on Placemeter's Vimeo page, showing counts in action.

Screenshot, used by permission.

There’s a business to be made in better understanding the places you want to be.

“The way you interact with physical locations around you is extremely outdated,” Florent Peyre, cofounder and COO of Placemeter, told Technically Brooklyn, when we visited the 18-month-old startup in its latest temporary office, TimeSpace, in The New York Times Building

That’s why the team is working now to build up a data gathering infrastructure that will allow consumers to know how busy their favorite spots are before going. Even more lucratively, it will also be gathering pools of data that certain businesses will realize they really need, he said.

Florent Peyre, Placemeter cofounder, in TimeSpace

Florent Peyre, inside a conference room at the New York Times accelerator.

To begin to get the data the Placemeter team wants for New York City, Peyre said they’ll need at least 2,000 cameras or sensors. To date, the team has access to less than half that, including several hundred Department of Transportation devices and 200 of their own.

The team is still working to get the app working smoothly while simultaneously building their own Raspberry Pi based sensor (most of the private sensors now are old smart phones). Once that’s done, they believe they can present this to the tech community and get the full layer they need.

Join the Placemeter Beta.

With that data, they can tell consumers how busy lots of popular spots around the city are (starting with public places, but not ending there). The following step is to to begin making predictions about how busy a given space will be when you are thinking about going. If this is all sounding like a rather ambitious goal, it is. The team is thinking very big.

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Peyre, a Fort Greene resident, and his cofounder, Alex Winter, CEO, started the company in Park Slope. Peyre told us that they expect to move it back to Brooklyn and into their own office when their stint at TimeSpace is done. The team closed a $1.7 million venture round in October, led by NEA and Triplepoint Capital. 

Between public and private cameras, they can get most of the data they need, Peyre said. They will supplement that with data posted that has a time stamp and location, from places like FourSquare and Twitter. (This reminds us of a 2011 project called ‘Go Crowdless’ that used social media check-ins to estimate when was the best time to visit Manhattan holiday tourist stops.)

If red flags are going up for readers here, Peyre is very clear that his company is not in the surveillance business. The cameras are counting, not filming. In other words, they aren’t holding onto the video. Peyre says they couldn’t afford to hold onto that much video and it’s not something they want to do, anyway. “Our product is really the data itself,” Peyre said. Meaning the counts and the measurements of speed, pausing and lingering of traffic. 

The sensors do get specific. Right now, they can count cars, buses, adults, kids, bicyclists and other conveyances with people. They may be able to start distinguishing gender with a certain margin of error before long and also vehicle makes and models.

The vision here is to be able to tell consumers what the optimal time to go to your favorite local business is. They will also be able to sell companies data about how many people are passing their stores by, if people are lingering by the window, if people linger and go in or keep walking.

Look for the company to unveil some interesting web pages with real time updates about some of New York’s most notoriously long lines soon.

In order to incentivize getting cameras into private homes, Placemeter is looking at the civic apps space. So while some lucky homes may actually get paid to host a camera, mostly you’ll get paid with information about your street. So, for example, if you think that people drive too fast on Bedford Avenue, you could put a sensor up in your window and link it to their Speedbuster App (prototype concept, that name could change) for real data on how fast people are going down the street, data that will empower Community Boards and advocates to back up what they believe anecdotally about the parts of the city that need action.

The company will also work to make sense of all this aggregate of data and push it back to the city in a usable way.

Placemeter started with the idea of counting people inside stores, but they pivoted to a bigger idea last summer: counting people (and cars and bikes … even dogs) outside on the streets, as PandoDaily recounts. Check out the video below to see one of their computer vision cameras making its counts.

Peyre was a VP at Gilt City and helped launch house swapping company Casa HopWinter founded and successfully exited from LTU Tech, an image matching company.

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