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GCN : March 2014
THINK OF IT AS a benign Big Brother. New York City is testing a new application that analyzes video streams of the city s streets to glean data about pedestrian tra c patterns. Data showing the flow of people can o er several advantages, say city plan- ning o cials, from helping small businesses scout new locations to enabling the sanitation department to anticipate demand for trash pickups. "Our goal is to build a real- time data layer about what is happening in the physical world, where people are, by analyzing existing video feeds and using computer vision algorithms on them," said Alexandre Winter, CEO and founder of Placemeter, the company that is provid- ing the pedestrian data to the city. According to Lindsay Mollineaux, a quantita- tive analyst with the city s O ce of Data Analytics, "We had great city data on business conditions and demographics, but the one thing we really wanted were really granular, neighbor- hood pedestrian foot-tra c patterns." The city currently uses the pedestrian tra c data pri- marily to aid those interested in opening small business to determine the most promis- ing location. But there are many other potential ap- plications. "The Department of Sani- tation has expressed interest in exploring further," said Nick O Brien, chief of sta of the O ce of Data Analytics. "If they know there s going to be more activity in an area they can be sure to get somebody out there to clear the trash bins so they don t overflow." And consumers can use the data to decide when itthebesttimetogotoa store or to buy tickets for a Broadway show. "We also have algorithms to measure wait time if there is a line," Winter said. "New York City has a lot of famous lines -- like the TKTS line to buy a ticket for Broadway shows. We have a camera on that." Winter adds that the tool can also be used to track the impact of changes in the city infrastructure on pedestri- ans. "Measuring the impact on foot tra c is pretty im- portant," he noted. Placemeter gets the video feeds from both public and private sources. Through an agreement with the city, the company analyzes video collected by Depart- ment of Transportation cameras. The company also has agreements with private companies operating video cameras. It even has a beta program o ering people the opportunity to participate in bulk video capture by plac- ing their old cell phone in a window to passively record video outside. The video will then be transmitted over the Internet to Placemeter via the individual s Wi-Fi. "We provide little suction- cup holder to put the phone in the window," said Winter. For their part, participants have the prospect a earning a share of the revenue when the data is sold. Placemeter is currently analyzing data from about 500 cameras in New York City. According to Winter, "We re going to cover most of the interesting places in the city within the next nine months, and to do that we estimate we will need anywhere between 2,000 to 3,000 video feeds, which is not a lot." Placemeter plans to deliver the data in real time and with resolution down to the address level. Currently, the city project only gets static snapshots of data, and the resolution is only at the neighborhood level. "We re looking to improve this tool," O Brien said. "This is really a phase one exercise. The administration is very interested in provid- ing this kind of information on a neighborhood level all throughout the city. We re looking to expand this tool to help meet that need." As for those concerned about privacy, Winter o ers assurances. "Even though our system looks like a surveillance system, there are no privacy concerns. We don t recognize peoples faces, and we don t store any video footage." • NYC TESTS ANALYTICS ON FOOT TRAFFIC TO SCOUT NEW BUSINESS LOCATIONS, SERVICES BY PATRICK MARSHALL EMERGING TECH Even though our system looks like a surveillance system, there are no privacy concerns. We don't recognize peoples' faces, and we don't store any video footage. --- ALEXANDRE WINTER, PLACEMETER 34 GCN MARCH 2014 • GCN.COM