Pixel Velocity Expands in IoT With $10M From Draper Triangle
Earlier this month, venture capital firm Draper Triangle announced an investment of $10 million in Ann Arbor’s Pixel Velocity, with plans to quickly grow the company to take advantage of the rise of cloud technologies and Internet of Things applications. Jonathan Murray, Draper Triangle’s Michigan-based managing director, has taken a seat on Pixel Velocity’s board as part of the deal.
Even though Pixel Velocity has been around for 14 years, Murray says it came onto Draper’s radar about nine months ago. What appealed to Pittsburgh-based Draper is the direction Pixel Velocity is taking its sensor and monitoring technology, and its new CEO Matt Van Haaren, who Murray describes as a “sharp, young executive.”
“We view them as being part of the industrial Internet of Things,” Murray says. “Companies have sensors and devices installed all over the place—the swipe card reader at the building entrance, for instance. Industrial IoT takes that data and enables companies to better manage their assets and people, and Pixel Velocity fits into that.”
Van Haaren says the company was started by two University of Michigan researchers who were at the forefront of image processing technology. Pixel Velocity spent the first seven years of its existence doing contract research and development work before starting to build its own products in 2008.
The company started with security videos and technology that enabled the tracking of a person or object across multiple video streams, allowing customers to look at the speed, velocity, and bearing of an object, lock on that target, and track it while producing metadata—higher-level information about data—for analysis. Pixel Velocity’s early security analytics were used at U-M’s football stadium, Chicago O’Hare airport, and the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas.
The Cosmopolitan, Van Haaren explains, is one of the few hotels in Las Vegas with balconies. In a city known for overconsumption, that feature ended up being problematic, as hotel guests would periodically send glasses or other objects flying off their balconies. The hotel needed to address how to track falling objects after an incident with a glass that injured several bystanders on the street below. It also wanted to do it in a way that didn’t violate guests’ privacy. Van Haaren says Pixel Velocity was able to create a “virtual curtain” outside of each room that could detect when items began falling off balconies, and it could track the time and room number where the action originated.
These days, Pixel Velocity uses cameras, sensors, and software to detect changes in pressure or temperature in order to monitor things like remote oil pipelines. The company took the technology developed to monitor balconies at the Cosmopolitan and tweaked it so that it could scan a pipeline and send video images over low-bandwidth networks, keeping an eye out for potential breaches to the pipeline, without needing a human presence on the ground. It plans to release an updated software suite later this year that uses analytics to detect hydrocarbon leaks, blocked valves, and other mishaps.
“It disrupts revenue if you have to shut down and fix a pipeline,” Van Haaren says. “Traditionally, you use hand-held cameras and send people out to do surveys. We provide a sensor system to mount on the structure, and we’ve written software and algorithms to monitor things without needed a person sitting there the whole time.”
Pixel Velocity is also starting to more deeply explore industrial applications, where its technology could be integrated with a factory’s control system infrastructure to spot problems on manufacturing lines, and military applications, where its monitoring systems could keep soldiers safe from “lone wolf-style” enemy attacks, Van Haaren says.
The five-year goals of the company, which currently has 17 full-time employees, are to become a leader in imagery analysis for the energy sector and develop new applications for its technology. Van Haaren also says the company plans to stay in Ann Arbor.
“It seems like a given, but it’s really important that we’re a Michigan company; we have lots of business relationships with component suppliers here, and we’ve gotten some help from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation along the way,” he adds. “That’s also why we did business with Draper—we like that they’re a Midwestern VC firm.”