Debunking Myths About Computer Vision

By Alex Winter, CEO & Co-Founder

Technology is often over-estimated or under-estimated based on what people see in TV shows and movies. Thanks to Mission Impossible, Jack Bauer, and almost any modern police drama out there computer vision has been recently over-estimated.

 

As a CV veteran, I always get amused, and sometimes annoyed by the things that happen “on TV.” I also realize that the impression people get from TV and movies can affect how people perceive technologies like Placemeter’s. So in a new series, I’m going to give readers an idea of what current misconceptions of computer visions are.

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5 Ways to Market Privacy When Gathering Data About Consumers

Last week, a Buzzfeed investigation revealed that advertising company Titan had placed roughly 500 Gimbal beacons, which can be used to transmit messages and collect anonymized data via Bluetooth, in phone booths across NYC. Buzzfeed’s article painted a nefarious picture of the beacons’ potential “surveillance” use.

The city ordered their immediate removal, but opinions were split on whether or not this news hailed the coming of Minority Report in real life. Buzzfeed seemed to think so, but CityLab was less sure, noting that Titan’s move was, no more freaky-deaky than the tracking technology we encounter on the web every day.” In addition, the beacons actually required user opt-in via an app for data collection.

If one thing is clear, it’s that how cities and businesses present their data gathering programs to the public is becoming increasingly important, especially as consumers become more aware of the various sensors surrounding them in the physical world.

What’s the best way to present data collection efforts in an open and educational way to the public? Here are five steps you can take to stave off growing concern around tech and privacy:
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  1. Be proactive about marketing your data collection efforts - present the facts clearly to the consumer to avoid potential misinterpretation of the facts if others break the news first.
  2. Clearly outline the benefits of your service for consumers - allow your customers to draw their own conclusions. If you message correctly, many might think that sharing their data is worth the enhanced experience.
  3. Consider an opt-in rather than opt-out strategy – building a happy and engaged—albeit smaller—audience may be worth the trade-off. This will become more important as consumer and privacy groups increase their efforts to counter opt-out programs. If you decide on opt out, building consumer awareness around privacy will be even more crucial.
  4. Highlight how your data protects the anonymized information of customers where possible.
  5. Partner with a privacy organization, such as the Future of Privacy Forum, to develop your privacy and marketing policies, and display any privacy certifications prominently in your materials.

As a reminder about Placemeter’s own privacy policy, our goal is to build a data layer about places, not people. At Placemeter, privacy is built-in. Check out our privacy post for more info!

Why Smart City Startups Should Care About What U.S. Mayors Care About

Boston University’s Initiative on Cities published a comprehensive survey of what areas mayors most care about and every “Smart City” startup out there should take note. The top three items that mayors in major US cities care about:

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Financial Management
  3. Economic Development

Any company looking to provide valuable services to cities and citizens should focus on improving at least one of those categories. Though a startup might be dealing with lower rungs of city government, knowing the things that keep leadership up at night will help sell your service to the upper echelons. If you can help the mayor sleep easier than you’ll have a valuable product on hand.

OpenGov is a great example of a company that has done this well (along with Placemeter of course). A Mountain View based startup co-founded by Joe Lonsdale from Palantir, OpenGov provides a platform for city governments to publish budgets to citizens and gain business insights. It hits on all of the top three mayoral concerns above and solves a huge pain point for cities trying to communicate important fiscal details to citizens.

There’s been some talk recently from Peter Thiel about how he doesn’t invest in startups based on buzz words, and to a certain extent he’s right. Startups shouldn’t necessarily aim to be a “Big Data” company or a “Smart City” company, but rather focus themselves around solving problems. What problems? you ask. Well, start with the three above.

Check out the info-graphic from the report below and the full (PDF) report here.

Source: Boston University Initiative on Cities

Source: Boston University Initiative on Cities

CRACKED YOUR SMARTPHONE? USE IT TO PAY FOR A NEW ONE!

It’s happened to everyone at least once. Bam.

You know by the sound alone, even before you pick it up and look at the screen. Even before you see the delicate crystalline nerves snaking over your Instagrammed #summer sunset background photo. Shattered screen. Incapacitated lock button.

Sometimes, it’s okay, you can keep using your smartphone almost normally. Other times, it won’t even turn on. Sometimes it’s barely borderline-usable, but you put up with it anyway; you tell yourself you can deal with the occasional glass splinter in your finger for 10 months until your next upgrade. And you wouldn’t be alone — a whole quarter of iPhone owners walk around with cracked iPhones, and 31% of them say they won’t ever bother to fix it.

For those the best solution – or the easiest – is just to buy a new smartphone. Well, we all know how expensive that can get. Broken & damaged smartphones have cost Americans $23.5 billion in repair and replacement in the last seven years. That’s insane.

Here, at Placemeter, we will pay you up to $50 per month to place your broken smartphone on your window*. That’s it. Go buy your new phone, and get reimbursed every month through us! In a whole year, you can earn up to $600 and help make your city better at the same time. Now that’s what we like to call paying it forward!

Sign up now to join our Meter Community, and help people, businesses and municipalities better understand their environment by contributing to building the first real-time data layer quantifying the physical world!

phone-campaign

*as long as the camera & wifi work properly and you’re still able to install apps on your phone.

Websummit ALPHA companies: pitch till you drop!

A little less than a year ago, I went on the stage on the last day of the Summit, with two other finalists of the ALPHA pitch session. And … Paddy called my name! We had won the ALPHA pitch competition. Let me share a bit about how this (almost did not) happened, and hopefully some of that will be helpful for Summit ALPHA companies to prep their pitch this year.

I’m an engineer by training. I like rational things, I like core tech. I naturally tend to respect more what is under the hood than the hood itself, or whatever is wrapping the engine. Naturally, pitching the company seems less important than building the core of our products, especially with a highly tech project like placemeter. It seems like a necessary waste of time, to which you would just dedicate the sufficient efforts to become OK at. And then get back to selling and coding.

One thing I learned at Techstars and then at the Websummit pitch competition last year is that extreme pitching skills are not only necessary to share and project the vision of your company, but also to build it! Making your message clear, compact and powerful actually also makes your product clear and powerful.

So this my 2 cents advice for you if you are going to pitch at the Summit pitch competition: don’t just be good enough to get your ideas through. Shoot for the moon.

Become AMAZING at pitching.

Because this is the way your company will become amazing – and this is also how you might end up pitching on the huge main stage for the finals at the ALPHA pitch competition.

Now, practically, here are some tidbits I hope can help you get to the big finals next month:

  • Focus on the story. Preparing a pitch should start with a word document not a powerpoint document. Write down your story, build slides next.
  • Slow yourself down when you talk. Use silences and pauses a lot. When you pause to highlight one thing you said, literally count to 3 in your head.
  • Remove a LOT of words. Every word counts. Choose them VERY carefully. In a typical first draft of your narrative, you have 2-3 times too many words. Cut down! It is much easier than you would think.
  • Practice a LOT. I practiced my pitch for a whole month, at least once per day, plus some longer, 2-3 hour sessions refining it.
  • Get a TON of feedback. Practice in front of lots of people, ask for candid feedback.
  • Practice out loud. Do it in the street, in the subway, at the grocery store. You’ll look like a lunatic. Practice with people throwing stuff at you, shouting, tickling you. This will help you keep your composure whatever happens on stage.
  • Know your pitch beyond “by heart”. Once you know it by heart, you need to repeat it again and again to get to the point where you are extremely comfortable with it and it becomes natural again.

So as we say in France, “merde” – saying “good luck” brings bad luck. And I’ll be watching you guys, please make me proud and get us that trophy!

—Alex

PS: if you have 3 minutes to spare, look at my pitch last year.

(this was originally posted on Alex’s blog)

Placemeter Raises A Series A!

This is a very, very exciting day for Placemeter, and we can’t help but share the joy! We just closed a $6M Series A round of funding, and are about to bring Placemeter to the next level.

We’ll dive into what that means for us and the team (we’re hiring by the way), but let’s go back in time for a minute.

How we started – Alex is obsessed with burgers

Two years ago, all I wanted was to get my burger faster…

I was standing in line at Shake Shack with my son, and I saw this webcam above the line. Back home I started writing code to process it, and predict when I could go back to the Shack and avoid the line.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was not just about burgers and lines.We know exactly how long it’ll take for that song to download or for that Uber to get to us, we know exactly how many steps we make every day or how well we sleep—how come we still don’t know how long the line is at Whole Foods? We also quickly realized how much cities and businesses need data to understand how citizens interact with their cities.

Growing into a company

Our first investor, blisce, made a bet on the company. Then our co-founder Florent jumped on board and turned that vision into the foundation of a real, ambitious business. Techstars helped us shape all this into an efficient and viable company. And things started to get real!

Fast forward a couple of years, and today, we are a stellar, tight-knit team of people who share this vision, and execute it majestically. We built a massive computer vision backend and network—literally never seen before. We aggregate a large number of cameras from various sources, and now cover a significant part of New York. And most importantly, a number of cities, retailers, and people are using our data and paying for it.

Enough talk about the past, let’s see what’s ahead for us.

The $6M Series A round was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA) with participation from Qualcomm Ventures, Collaborative Fund, FundersClub, and existing investors TriplePoint Capital, blisce, and various angel investors who have been with us from the beginning.

What’s next

What will we be building with this round of money? We’ll expand Placemeter’s platform and analytics to quantify the physical world at a larger, global scale. We will:

  • Keep on building our world-class team in New York. (Join us!)
  • Expand and automate our video feed ingestion and data delivery to customers.
  • Grow our community of data-driven citizens around the world.

NEA General Partner Forest Baskett will join the our board and Qualcomm Ventures Vice President Quinn Li will join as a board observer. Both Forest and Quinn are perfect fits to help us scale up our platform, bringing experience and wisdom to Placemeter’s long-term planning. Forest, along with Ben from TriplePoint, took a bet on us in our seed round, and they were instrumental in helping us turn our vision into reality.

We couldn’t be more excited for the road ahead and we thank all the people who helped us get here. Onward and upward!

—Alex & Florent

SXSW Spotlight: Jan Erik Solem

We submitted a SXSW panel idea for the tech portion of the festival next year. In the next few days, we’re going to highlight the amazing speakers who will join us to discuss the future of quantified cities and how tech can best improve urban environments. First off is Jan Erik Solem, a prolific entrepreneur and computer vision expert. Voting closes on September 5th—so go on and vote for our panel!

 

Jan Erik Solem is a prolific researcher and entrepreneur passionate about imaging and vision. Currently, Jan Erik is CEO and co-founder of Mapillary, a startup creating a crowdsourced version of Street View for the world.

Previously, he was founder of Polar Rose, a face recognition company for mobile, web, and cloud, which was sold to Apple. While at Apple, he worked on computer vision as a team leader and researcher in Cupertino. When not running companies, Jan Erik is an Associate Professor at Lund University and author of two textbooks and multiple research papers on computer vision technology.

Jan Erik is a mathematician, programmer, entrepreneur, and angel investor. He is a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, he owns over 15 published patents and applications, and has written over 20 published academic papers. He is the author of best-selling computer vision textbooks that has taught countless students the basics of programming for computer vision. He was awarded the Best Nordic PhD-thesis for his dissertation on Image Analysis and Pattern Recognition.

Jan Erik was born to Greek and Norwegian parents in Switzerland, while living in Sweden. He loves to cycle, program and partake in all winter sports. Jan Erik is a long time vegetarian, atheist, and open source proponent. He lives in Malmö with his wife and three children.