When Shake Shack opened in Madison Square Park nearly a decade ago, lines followed almost immediately, and they have yet to let up. Sure, there’s the Shack Cam, a video camera feed that provides you a real time view of the line, but that’s about as useful as a sign telling you a subway is coming without telling you when. And from that experience, Alex Winter and fellow partner Florent Peyre drew inspiration for real time data app Placemeter, which helps consumers pinpoint how long their wait will be.
After Winter waited for a cheeseburger one day, he decided to apply his years of experience in computer vision technology to better manage all of our time. His background is what you might expect from a person trying to tackle the question of real time data management: He holds a PhD in image recognition as well as several patents to his name. Where restaurateurs look to service issues for an answer, Winter is more familiar with looking at satellite imagery. He enlisted help from Peyre, whose experience in new business development at local offer start-up Gilt City makes him a natural for seeking out growth opportunities for the company.
The data for Placemeter comes from public video streams and computer vision technology: The company is already working with New York’s Department of Transportation to analyze traffic patterns, while various users who live near high volume places like Trader Joe’s are using old smartphones set up in windows to help to capture real time statistics. “The only way to really have an exhaustive view of how many people are inside a location…is to use computer vision,” says Peyre. “By looking at places from the outside, I can tell you how many people are inside.”
As technology improves and devices capture more data, applications of Placemeter range from detecting the wait at your local Starbucks to determining when a parking spot becomes available. “If Google were to ingest our data, they could tell you that the beach you’re looking at to go next Saturday is super crowded after 11 a.m., so you might want to leave earlier to find a parking spot,” says Peyre. “If Yelp were to ingest our data, they could tell you — and they could potentially push an alert to you — about how busy the Meatball Shop is.”
Placemeter is currently working on gathering that data, and if you have an old phone and want to help, the company will sent instructions on where to get the app and other materials so you can capture what’s happening outside your window.
So how does this relate to dining out? You’ll be able to gauge how much you want that cheeseburger: “The simple fact of knowing makes the whole experience better,” says Peyre. “It always feels like the waiting time is longer than it really is. We think that that data when placed in the hands of the consumer will just make the experience better. When you have a better experience, you tend to spend more.”