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Startup wins Knight grant; will count bikes and pedestrians in St. Louis

(Flicker, Jim Fenton)

CTYis a technology company that formed in St. Louis just last year.

But the startup nabbed a $35,000 Prototype Fund grant from the Knight Foundation and will test its first product in a project with the city.

The product, called Numina, collects real-time data using optical sensors. This summer those sensors will count pedestrians and bicyclists and send that information to the St. Louis Department of Health.

CEO Tara Pham said the city’s willingness to work with a startup and use new technology is important.

"Local companies need support from local customers first, and it’s really cool that our dream customer, which is the city government, is our first major customer," she said. "It’s happening here in St. Louis."

The city’s health department wants to get pedestrian and bike counts before and after actions it takes to mitigate traffic in certain areas of St. Louis between July and September.

"This data will help us to identify areas with low levels of pedestrian activity, and then apply resources to support active lifestyles for residents," said Melba Moore, acting director of health, in a statement.

The city has targeted active transit among its obesity prevention efforts. It also updated the Complete Streets policy last November, prioritizing access through all forms of transit, including bikes and pedestrians.

Pham said about a dozen devices the size of large smoke detectors would go up for a week at a time around St. Louis. She described it as fitness tracker for a place.

"You hang it up on a wall and it immediately starts to count data," she said.

But she said it won’t collect any personal information; just number counts that will be sent to the city.

Pham, who came to St. Louis to study at Washington University and then stayed on, said the Numina prototype was completed in January. She got the chance to learn more about testing the product in a tw0-day conference at the Knight Foundation with other Prototype Fund winners.

“The message was it’s ok to change your plan or set new goals along the way, but the point is to set out hypotheses to test,” she said. “In our case we’re testing our devices and their accuracy and how the data they’re producing will help the health department.”

Chris Barr, who leads the Knight Foundation's Prototype Fund, said CTY's project is a good example of using data to benefit a community.

"We hope it will lead to more accessible solutions for cities looking to make data-driven decisions about the use of public space," Barr said.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.