This startup reworked its privacy-friendly sensors to help battle COVID-19 – TipsClear

A little-known home and retail automation start-up may seem like an unlikely candidate to help tackle the ongoing pandemic. But its founder says his technology can do just that, even if that wasn’t the company’s original plan.

Butlr, a spin-out of the MIT Media Lab, uses a mix of battery-powered wireless hardware and artificial intelligence to track the movements of people inside without violating their privacy. The startup uses ceiling-mounted sensors to detect people’s body heat to track where a person is walking and where they might go next. The use cases are almost endless. Sensors can turn on mood lighting or air conditioning when they sense movement, help businesses understand how shoppers navigate their stores, determine checkout queue times, and even sound the alarm if it detects a person after normal business hours.

By using passive infrared sensors to detect only body heat, the sensors don’t know who you are – only where you are and where you are heading. Tracking stops as soon as you leave the range of the sensor, such as when you leave a store.

The technology is in high demand. Butlr says some 200,000 retail stores are using its technology, not least because it is so much cheaper than more invasive – and expensive – alternatives like surveillance cameras and facial recognition.

But when the pandemic hit, most of those stores closed – as did entire cities and countries – to counter the lingering threat of COVID-19. But those stores had to reopen and Butlr was back to work.

Butlr’s privacy-friendly body heat sensors don’t know who you are – only where you are. Now the company is retooling its technology to help fight the coronavirus. (Image: Butlr)

Butlr co-founder Honghao Deng told TipsClear he has started revamping its technology to help support the reopening of stores.

The company quickly rolled out new software features, such as maximum occupancy and queue management, to help stores with sensors already installed cope with new and evolving laws and guidelines that businesses must face. comply.

Deng said the sensors can ensure that the authorized number of people cannot be in one store at a time and ensure that staff are protected from customers by helping enforce social distancing rules. Customers can also see live queue data to help them choose a less busy time to shop, Deng said.

All of these things before a pandemic may have seemed, frankly, a little boring. Fast forward into the midst of a pandemic and you’re probably grateful for all the help – and technology – you can get.

Butlr tested its new features in China at the height of the pandemic’s rise in February, and then rolled out to its global customers, including the United States. Deng said Butlr’s technology was already helping customers at Steelcase furniture store, 99 Ranch Market supermarket chain and the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi to help them reopen while minimizing risk to others.

It is a pivot that paid off. Last month, Butlr raised $ 1.2 million in seed funding as the pandemic peaked in the United States.

No one knew a pandemic was going to happen, including Deng. And with the spread of the pandemic, businesses have suffered. If it hadn’t been for some quick thinking, Butlr could have been another startup that succumbed to the pandemic.

Instead, the startup is likely to help save lives – and without compromising anyone’s privacy.

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