How Ulytic solves urban traffic problems in real time

Several years ago, the Ulytic team met each other at a mobile app competition that Microsoft was hosting at the University of Missouri. Since then, the team has rolled out an app and a platform. They have been concentrating on their current platform Ulytic for the last year. How Ulytic works Ulytic is an urban…

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Gabe Owens, co-founder & CIO and Billy Martin, co-founder & CEO

Several years ago, the Ulytic team met each other at a mobile app competition that Microsoft was hosting at the University of Missouri.

Since then, the team has rolled out an app and a platform. They have been concentrating on their current platform Ulytic for the last year.

How Ulytic works

Ulytic is an urban analytics platform. According to Martin, the platform takes existing traffic cameras and traffic camera networks and runs a proprietary computer vision software on them, turning ordinary traffic cameras into traffic sensors.

“[Our] software takes the video feeds and turns it into rich data about motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic,” said Martin.

Martin explained that the information collected is useful for Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and government agencies on a local and state level.

“In 2016 the standard method for taking a traffic count is sending someone out with a clicker and a clipboard to count the number of objects that pass by,” said Martin. “The second most used method are rubber tubes that take a one to three day sample of traffic in an attempt to make claims about how traffic behaves year round.”

Martin explained that with their cameras the team hopes to provide a much more statistically significant baseline to make the counts more accurate, and to make the year round transportation plans much more believable.

Ulytic also hopes to provide a lot of supplemental data in the space to help speed up alerts to drivers, letting them know about congestion sooner and getting them on a faster route.

“Most of the tools that drivers use now to identify congestion are map apps,” said Martin. “Those tools take an average of ten minutes to build enough confidence from app users [and their phone accelerometers] to record congestion. With a live camera, you can do the same thing in under a minute.”

Partnering with TrafficLand

The team also has a partnership with a company called TrafficLand, a business that manages traffic camera feeds for 38 states.

“The state DOTs purchase the traffic cameras and deploy them,” said Martin. “Then TrafficLand manages the feeds and makes them much more accessible for anyone from the DOT, news stations or other media outlets who want to broadcast those images on tv or their websites.”

According to Martin, the Ulytic team currently has access to TrafficLand’s full network, allowing them to do market and technology testing.

“We’re exploring more B2C options through them by trying to inform drivers of congestion and traffic volume,” said Martin.

Born out of failure

When asked about what motivated the Ulytic team to build the urban analytics platform, Martin said that they had previously failed at using the software in other ways.

“We had an app that we were running together,” said Martin. “We’d build these really inexpensive cameras and get permission from restaurant, bar, cafe and gym owners to put them inside of their venues.”

Martin explained that the cameras would take a picture every 30 seconds and the pictures would go on the app so that users could see how busy places were before they went. The app was called Social Eyes.

“People could see if there were any tables available at restaurants or treadmills available at the gym,” said Martin. “One thing we learned immediately was that we had to find a way to make sure no one’s privacy was compromised. We had to work with the software to blur people’s faces out essentially.”

Martin explained that after the team failed to monetize the app in a sustainable way, the team started to get an idea of how novel the software was that they were working with and began to get better ideas of how to use it.

“We realized that if we could identify someone and blur them out, we could also count them,” said Martin. “We landed on traffic after we learned that the gold standard methods for counting traffic today are pretty archaic and produce sample sizes that you really can’t do much with.”

Straight Shot and beyond

Ulytic is currently one of eight new startups in the 2016 Straight Shot cohort. Martin explained that during the accelerator the team hopes to prioritize their target markets and do more market research.

“One thing we’ve already learned from Straight Shot is that we need to pick a customer and really provide a good product, service and support,” said Martin. “We want to do as much customer learning as we can and then pick a customer that we can provide the best solution to and then expand after that.”

Martin said that overall, the team wants to have a drastic impact on some level of curbing traffic.

“We’re attempting to digitize the physical world in real time,” said Martin. “If we can use all of this existing camera infrastructure that exists across the country and turn it into data, I think it opens the door for a lot of different possibilities.”

Melanie Lucks is a communications intern for Silicon Prairie News and AIM Careerlink.

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