Density aims to end queueing for hospitals, homeless shelters, coffee shops and elsewhere

We hear a lot about the internet of things and its ability to offer huge amounts of actionable data to the world. Imagine the IoT making your next visit to the ER, Starbucks or elsewhere easier.

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If you are interested in IoT, today's news about the launch of Density, a new people-counting sensor that has been created by alums from Apple and the Y Combinator accelerator, should catch your attention.

Density is a small sensor that anonymously measures how busy a location is in real-time. In practice, with the device mounted above an entryway, a business can use the Density API to access how many people have visited. A limitless variety of potential customers, from hospitals to homeless shelters, coffee shops to corporate campuses, can then use their space better.

Still a tiny company of six, Density was founded in 2014 in San Francisco and is launching its “sensor-as-a-service” offering today. The device, which is about the size of an Apple TV, is touted as a simple, anonymous and most importantly accessible people-counting product. Rather than focusing on the device per se, Density is really about providing a data platform that customers can integrate into their third-party solutions. In terms of the technology, Density utilizes infrared light, depth sensing technology, machine learning and computer vision to derive an accurate people count without being able to determine age, gender or ethnicity.

Of course, as is regrettably the case for those who see technology really moving the needle in more important areas, to date, the most common use for people counting has been in the retail industry. It goes without saying that those retail technologies are backed by advertising and marketing budgets. They have one goal in mind: to track as much personal data as possible about a customer in order to serve them better advertisements. In contrast, Density has anonymity built in as a key feature and is, therefore, able to overcome many of the “Big Brother” concerns around people sensing.

The company claims that it is already selling its new sensor to some of the largest networks of rooms in the world -- from Fortune 500 companies to Uber, startups like Workfrom to universities, major theme parks to hospitals, even churches and airlines.

In the health setting, Density could conceivably give advanced warning to EMTs about how full a hospital is, therefore helping them decide the best facility to deliver patients to -- potentially saving time and delivering better outcomes for patients.

Interestingly, Density doesn’t charge for the devices, only for the resulting data -- this is certainly an interesting business model and should help to ease their customer acquisition pains.


I love what Density is doing, but struggle to see how defensible it is. Sensor devices are increasingly readily obtainable, and at the same time, building management systems and resource allocation platforms are starting to think about including sensor data into their core offerings.

The question then is whether a standalone platform that offers people counting can really gain traction -- or whether an integrated solution alongside core technology solutions in use by Density’s target market will be a stronger proposition. I’m not convinced the former will win at the end of the day but will watch Density with interest.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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