A screenshot of the Placemeter platform.
Courtesy of Placemeter
By Stacey Higginbotham
June 23, 2015

Understanding how many people cross a stretch of sidewalk each day may seem pretty mundane, but Placemeter, a New York-based startup, has raised a total of $7.8 million from NEA, Qualcomm Ventures and Collaborative Fund to do just that. The company uses a sensor that grabs video of public spaces and then converts that video to data that can be used to count people, cars or other objects passing by. Placemeter is starting with people.

The company is launching Tuesday, and announcing that its people-measuring sensor will be available for pre-order for $99. Placemeter’s founders believe the sensor will be useful for civic hacking projects, municipal governments and for people who own shops or have an interest in foot traffic. They aren’t alone. Fortune recently covered a startup called Density that delivers an ability to count people inside coffee shops, offices or other indoor locations.

Tracking the number of people in a place and converting that information to digital data offers all kinds of benefits, from being able to better use public spaces to figuring out if your favorite restaurant has a table. Only now, thanks to cheaper sensors and—in Placemeter’s case—better computer vision, can we now actually calculate how many people there are in large areas and for a low cost.

The issue is that counting people at scale is difficult. Many methods require everyone on the street to have a phone with Wi-Fi turned on, and satellites don’t offer good enough resolution. From a privacy point of view, it would be even better if Placemeter could guarantee anonymity on its platform, but as you can see from the photo above, the resolution is grainy. Basically it is a cheap eye on the street (or placed in the window of a shop for foot traffic) designed to count things.

The Placemeter platform can work with a user’s own video, or they can deploy the $99 sensor. The company charges a monthly fee based on the number of measurement points it is counting people at. The company’s founders, Florent Peyre, COO and co-founder, and Alexandre Winter, CEO, offered several use cases for the platform during an interview. They ranged from a candy retailer placing a sensor in the window of two storefronts he was considering leasing to measure when people walked by. Based on that data, he chose the location with the best afternoon foot traffic.

Other use cases include researchers using the Placemeter data to create maps of foot traffic and how that correlates to 3-1-1 calls. A municipality might use it to figure out where to put a crosswalk or otherwise optimize future building projects.

The founders plan to open up the data so others can use it to create new research projects or glean more information about city life to help make them more efficient and livable. The company has a distribution model that could make this work, and when paired with the indoor, anonymous counting capabilities of Density, we could soon live in a world where you could see at a glance exactly how many people are in one place at one time. That’s powerful stuff.

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