CrowdOptic Taps Smartphones to Track the Crowd’s Attention

12/22/11Follow @xconomy

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crowd behavior, alerting event organizers to some sort of distraction. If, for example, a fistfight broke out in section 305 and people turned to look at the scene and dropped their phones, that change in position could alert crowd organizers that something is going on. It may just be that the whole section changed positions to check out the Goodyear Blimp as it floated by, Fisher says, but pinpointing a sudden change can help security identify potential problems.

“If we can figure out that an anomaly has occurred, we can get the first responders there 20, 30, 45 seconds faster,” he says. The company has already signed a deal to provide new technology to security firm Andrews International. But, Fisher notes, the company intends the technologies primarily for sporting and other events, not for broader security applications

Though a lot of companies are focusing on mobile apps, Fisher hasn’t identified any direct competitors. A serial entrepreneur—he sold his last company, Bharosa, to Oracle in 2007—he says this is the first time in his career that he hasn’t been aware of another company with a similar focus. “This is brand new technology,” Fisher says. “When we were taken up by Oracle last time, we had six competitors. I take a deep breath when I say this, but this time there’s no one.”

CrowdOptic raised a million dollars in Series A funding in March, some of it from Fisher himself and other private investors. In October, the company raised another half-million in a round led by Bowman Capital and Band of Angels. The company currently has about 15 employees.

So far, one of CrowdOptic’s biggest challenges has been mitigating the erratic compass signals in a lot of smartphones–even some of the latest models are pretty inaccurate indoors. The company has developed algorithms to smooth out the problem, but it’s a continuing challenge. “It works and deploys successfully, but [we] have to continue to work on it,” says Fisher.

And while deploying the technology is pretty easy at an event like a tennis match, where two players are well separated in different spaces, it can get more difficult at an event like a boxing match, where the two boxers are basically hugging. A game like football or basketball where players are constantly moving and in contact can make it much harder to separate objects of focus. But Fisher expects to see better smartphones within the year, making the process easier.

It’s also challenging to convince large entities to take up brand new technologies in a tough economic climate, Fisher says. Big institutions who want to be early adopters can be hard to come by. But so far, Fisher is pleased with the progress. The company launched out of beta testing in July at the Bank of the West Classic tennis tournament at Stanford University, and recently landed a deal to produce mobile applications for Sonoma Valley’s Infineon Raceway, which holds events like the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“People really love the novelty. Whenever you have that in the mobile space that’s really a prized commodity.”

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