I’m convinced that city building – like probably every other industry – is going to get a lot more data driven. Yesterday I wrote about how driverless cars are collecting exact replicas of our cities as a result of the 3D scanning that they do. And today I learned about an interesting new startup called Placemeter.
Basically it works like this: If you have a window (at home, at the office, or wherever) that faces onto a lively street, Placemeter will pay you to setup a smartphone in that window as a “meter.” The going rate is up to $50 per month and they’ll even provide you with the necessary suction cups.
Through video, your phone will then start collecting anonymous data about that street’s activity levels: the number of people, cars, and so on. Below is a video of what that output looks like. Notice that it’s even collecting the number of people that go into each of the stores. Click here if you can’t see the video below.
To make money, Placemeter plans to sell (or is already selling) this data. And their goal is to “make your city better” by specifically improving the way that pedestrian spaces are designed. There are of course lots of other use cases for data like this (such as seeing how busy that bar is across town), but their primary goal appears to be around city building. At least that’s the case right now.
Not surprisingly, there are concerns about privacy. But I’m sure they’ll be able to work around that. All of the data they collect is anonymous and they don’t save any of the footage that they receive from the meters. Their system just extracts the relevant data points and then automatically deletes the video.
What’s also interesting to me about this startup, though, is that it’s yet another example of decentralized value creation. Just like Airbnb empowered anyone with a spare room to run their own bed and breakfast and YouTube empowered anyone with some talent (or a funny cat) to create engaging content, Placemeter is allowing anyone with a window and a view to connect and contribute to a network of urban sensors.
And it works because the marginal cost of adding a new meter to their network is relatively low. Especially if you compare it to what it might cost for a municipality to setup and manage a similar – albeit centralized – system. It’s a totally different cost structure. So when we talk about smart cities and data driven city building, we’re really talking about networks and an environment of decentralized inputs.
It’s a pattern that keeps coming up as a result of the internet. If you start watching for it, I’m sure you’ll see it.