A little-known startup for home and retail property automation appears to be an unlikely candidate to fight the ongoing pandemic. However, the founder says that his technology can do just that, even if it wasn't the company's original plan.
Butlr, A spin-out from the MIT Media Lab uses a mix of wireless, battery-powered hardware and artificial intelligence to track people's movements indoors without violating their privacy. The startup uses ceiling-mounted sensors to measure people's body heat and keep track of where a person is going and where they might go next. The use cases are almost endless. The sensors can turn on mood lighting or air conditioning when they detect motion, help companies understand how shoppers navigate their stores, determine queue queues at the checkout, and even sound the alarm when they detect someone outside of business hours.
By using passive infrared sensors that only capture body heat, the sensors don't know who you are – just where you are and where you are going. The tracking stops as soon as you leave the range of the sensor, e.g. B. when you leave a store.
The technology is in high demand. According to Butlr, around 200,000 retail stores use this technology, not least because it is far cheaper than the more invasive and more expensive alternatives such as surveillance cameras and facial recognition.
When the pandemic broke out, most of these businesses, like entire cities and nations, closed to counter the ongoing threat of COVID-19. But these shops should open again, and So Butlr got back to work.
Butlr's co-founder, Honghao Deng, told theinformationsuperhighway that the company had upgraded its technology to help reopen stores.
The company quickly introduced new software features – such as maximum occupancy and queue management – to help stores with sensors already installed to deal with new, but constantly changing laws and guidelines that companies had to comply with.
Deng said that the sensors can ensure that there can be no more than the maximum number of people in a store at a time, and that employees are protected from customers by helping to enforce social distance rules. Customers can also view live queue data to find a less crowded time to shop, Deng said.
All these things before a pandemic frankly would have sounded a little boring. Fast forward in the middle of a pandemic and you're probably grateful for all the help – and technology – you can get.
Butlr tested its new capabilities in China at the height of the pandemic outbreak in February and was later rolled out to its global customers, including the United States. According to Deng, Butlr technology is helping customers in the Steelcase furniture store, 99 Ranch Market supermarket chain and the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi to reopen, while minimizing risk to others.
It is a linchpin that has paid off. Butlr raised $ 1.2 million in seed capital last month when the pandemic in the US peaked.
Nobody knew that a pandemic would come, not least Deng. And when the pandemic spread, companies suffered. Without quick thinking, Butlr might have been another startup that had succumbed to the pandemic.
Instead, the startup will likely help save lives – without compromising the privacy of others.