Surveillance Video Becomes a Tool for Studying Customer Behavior

The huge success of online shopping and advertising—led by giants like Amazon and Google—is in no small part thanks to software that logs when you visit Web pages and what you click on. Startup Prism Skylabs offers brick-and-mortar businesses the equivalent—counting, logging, and tracking people in a store, coffee shop, or gym with software that works with video from security cameras.

"There's a lot of wonderful information locked up in video, and 40 million security cameras in the U.S. collecting it, but it's data that's not been available," says Steve Russell, cofounder and CEO of Prism, based in San Francisco. "We want to free up that information."
Prism's software can count people that come into a business, measure the length of the line at checkout, and produce static or animated visualizations showing how people moved around a store. It is designed so that it cannot identify or track individuals. One national wireless carrier is already using Prism's technology to generate heat maps of where visitors go in their showrooms, to compare the level of interest in different devices—valuable data to them and to the device makers.
Prism's software can also be used to turn security footage into a live version of Google's Street View, says Ron Palmeri, Prism's president and other cofounder. "We give the ability to go beyond the facades of businesses and show you the inside and even how busy it is, using very effectively privacy-protected imagery."
That imagery can show people blurred into anonymous ghosts, in what Russell calls "Predator vision" (a pixelated image), or have people disappear altogether to be replaced with a "heat map," on which colors signal the density of people. One gym in San Francisco trialing the technology plans to use it to show customers a live view of how busy it is.
For more information on Prism Skylabs, Inc., please visit Prism’s website or read the entire article on Technology Review.