By Andy Medici

Dec. 1, 2017 - Pedestrians are the lifeblood of any retail center, and knowing where people are shopping and walking can make or break a community. And that’s why data service Kerb is coming to The Wharf.

The young data startup, founded earlier this year, uses mobile cameras and its proprietary software to analyze the number and type of pedestrian (adults or children), bikes and even pets on the street, and pass that data along to customers in the form of weekly reports about who is using the development and why.

The promise of up-to-date data is what drew the Southwest D.C. Business Improvement District to Kerb, and the two have partnered on a project to analyze who is using the massive mixed-use waterfront development and how they interact with the surrounding community. The cameras, which Kerb has mounted to a group of Uber and Lyft vehicles, will also be placed onto the private shuttles that ferry people between the development and Metro.

Equipped with a fish-eye lens, the cameras see pedestrians on both sides of the street as well as anyone in front of them.

The first phase of The Wharf from Hoffman-Madison Waterfront, a 2.2 million-square-foot, $1.4 billion project across 12 acres, opened in October. Its second phase will cost $1.1 billion and deliver another 1.2 million square feet, including a hotel, condos, apartments, retail and three marina buildings.

It’s a high-profile win for the data service startup as it works to expand its nascent customer base to other business improvement districts, real estate developers and investors, both in D.C. and New York. Kerb did not disclose the exact terms of the deal, although it said it would receive revenue. The cameras will begin operating Dec. 2 and will run through early February.

“The Wharf and other organizations want to know the types of people that are working within the area and how they get there, whether it’s by walking, bike or via bus. This helps drive retail customization. It helps drive real estate development,” said Stephen Buko, co-founder of Kerb.

Buko stressed that Kerb's privacy protections are quite strong, and that humans do not sift through the video or search it themselves. Rather, it is an algorithm that does the heavy lifting.

The startup, which operates out of Philadelphia-based 1776’s D.C. incubator, has spent the year meeting with potential customers. It has also fleshed how it will charge — by the block by the week. So if a developer has six blocks in D.C. it wants to analyze for three months, it will be charged accordingly.

Now Kerb is also looking to raise $750,000 in order to convert some part-time employees to full time (which would bring its total to seven) and acquire additional customers. Buko expects the software to become more refined over time, eventually picking out taxis from regular cars, for example.

"Luckily this project is so high-profile that a lot of the organizations and real estate groups in the New York area know what I am talking about when i talk about The Wharf," Buko said. "That level of market awareness is something we hope to carry around the D.C. area and the New York area as we look to expand."

The founders also bring a wealth of experience to the table. Buko, a manger at Deloitte, was formerly a senior engineer at Lockheed Martin and had worked in continuous improvement at Johnson Controls. His clients have included Mercedes Benz Automotive and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Co-founder and chief technology officer Richard Burg received his PhD in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a senior research scientist at Johns Hopkins University before leading a seven-year $300 million space satellite project at NASA. He then worked for the CIA as part of a big data project.

It was the promise of fresh data, given that The Wharf is so new, that led the Southwest BID to Kerb in the first place, said executive director Steve Moore. The partnership with Kerb also aligns with the BID's goal of experimenting with new and exciting technologies, Moore said.

"We are searching the planet for how we can get data about The Wharf and all the changes that are happening here," Moore said in an interview. "Our sense of urgency is that the whole of Southwest is transforming right before our eyes and there isn’t a lot of people out there collecting data in real time on what is happening."

"They can solve a problem quicker and faster than anyone we can get a hold of," Moore added.

This article was originally published in the Washington Business Journal.