Big Data

StreetLight Data raises $15 million to bring big data analytics to city transport

StreetLight Data, a big data platform that helps cities unlock mobility insights from location data collated from smartphone apps, has raised $15 million in a series D round of funding.

The raise comes as cities around the world are having to adapt to a “new normal,” one where social distancing measures require new ways to travel — bikes over buses is the general idea.

Big data

Founded in 2012, San Francisco-based StreetLight Data works with an aggregator called Cuebiq, which collects anonymized location data from hundreds of apps, including weather and dating apps, installed on millions of smartphones in North America. Cuebiq packages this inside an SDK which can be used by third-party platforms to create new apps and services from.

Indeed, StreetLight Data applies its machine learning algorithms to this data to figure out things like how people travel through cities, what transport they use, when the busiest times and days are, and so on.

In terms of what cities can do with these insights, well, it may help inform urban planning projects — what neighborhoods need new bus stops, or perhaps where a new road is required.

As of last year, StreetLight data can also measure bicycle and foot traffic, which is particularly pertinent in light of current transport patterns in most cities.

“Planners across the country are using StreetLights bicycle metrics to identify safe bicycle infrastructure opportunities in areas seeing increased bike activity,” StreetLight Data CEO Laura Schewel told VentureBeat.

Above: StreetLight Data: Bike traffic patterns

StreetLight Data is one of a number of companies that meshes big data with machine learning to help cities glean “hidden” information from citizens. Just yesterday, Israeli startup Zencity raised $13.5 million from a slew of notable backers, including Microsoft’s M12 and Salesforce, to aggregate real-time community feedback from unstructured data sources such as social networks, news websites, and telephone hotlines. It’s all about figuring out what the local public’s sentiments are on key topics, such as proposed traffic-calming measures.

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Partnerships

Prior to now, StreetLight Data had raised around $29 million, including a $10 million tranche two years ago, and with another $15 million in the bank the company is well-positioned to build on its existing partnerships with municipalities across the U.S. as they launch programs to facilitate “a new level of travel volatility” brought about by COVID-19.

“We have seen an increase in demand for StreetLight products that help transportation planners understand ‘normal conditions’ for long-term planning, COVID-impacted travel patterns to help ensure transportation services are available where the demand is, as well as a doubling and tripling of demand for education and webinars related to managing transportation — and transportation budgets — through the pandemic,” Schewel added.

A number of public bodies and educational institutions have turned to StreetLight Data’s platform for COVID-19-specific projects. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation used StreetLight’s mobility and demographic data to figure out some of the “social equity challenges” presented by COVID-19 in L.A. — more specifically, how to manage the availability of transportation services through the pandemic.

Elsewhere, Houston’s Rice University used StreetLight data to draw correlations between the increased traffic following lockdown and a surge of COVID-19 infections.

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