Miovision’s smart solution to the traffic we hateJackie Gill - September 18, 2019
Remember life before the smartphone?
When we wanted to make a call, we’d use a landline telephone. When we wanted to watch a video, we’d pop a disc into the DVD player. When we wanted to find our way through a new city, we’d load a map onto our GPS devices. When we needed to figure out a tip, we’d use a calculator.
In other words: we had dozens of pieces of hardware that only do one thing.
Then we started carrying iPhones, BlackBerrys and Androids. Suddenly, we had a single piece of hardware that could do dozens of things at once.
That’s what Miovision wants to be, but for smart cities, says CEO and co-founder Kurtis McBride. “The way I always describe what we do is, we’re the smartphone in the intersection.”
Not only does Miovision integrate with or replace the single-purpose hardware that makes our intersections tick, but with video and AI, its software can provide insights and analysis in real-time through the cloud so cities can make better decisions about traffic.
Today, you’ll find their tech in over 17,000 municipalities around the world, from Detroit, New York City and Chicago to Milton Ont. and Pima County, Ariz.
“Now they never want to go back in the same way that none of us would ever go back to Motorola flip phone and a flashlight.”
Making cities smarter one intersection at a time
Before McBride started Miovision in 2005, collecting traffic data sucked. Companies would arm employees with clipboards and pens, post them at an intersection for eight hours in the baking sun and tabulate the data manually.
He knows because that’s what he did during his last co-op job as a University of Waterloo student. “All the data that you collected, that you were more or less paying attention for eight hours, was being used to make really important, expensive decisions,” he says.
What kinds of decisions? Cities use that data to re-time signals, approve proposals for building plans and predict traffic patterns to decide where to widen roads or add an intersection.
And before Miovision’s cloud-connected traffic cabinet came along, maintenance was difficult, costly and time-consuming, too. Cities would send employees out to the side of the road to punch changes into a keypad manually.
“The thought was, there’s probably a better way to do this,” he says.
“I just have a compulsion to make things more efficient… and this seems particularly inefficient.”
– Kurtis McBride, CEO and co-founder of Miovision
Enter Miovision’s traffic hardware and software, from their portable video-enabled Scout unit to TrafficLink, which plugs into existing infrastructure to give cities new insights as to how traffic is moving through their streets and intersections.
It gives cities new insights into their traffic patterns, enables them to run traffic studies with little set-up or tear-down costs, and can allow traffic departments to run systems from the comfort of their office – no road trips required.
As smart as it is, though, Miovision’s hardware-software combo can be a hard sell, says McBride. “The market we live in is sort of pre-smartphone, where everything you want to add to the intersection is a new piece of hardware,” he says. “It’s traditionally is a hardware market. They typically buy one-time capex hardware.”
So convincing customers that they’ll benefit from the whole package is an uphill battle. “Every time we go to a customer, we have to sell them on a different paradigm because they’re not used to buying that way.”
That’s the sort of challenge they faced when they started working on data collection with New York City. “It took us years to work with them,” McBride says. The key? Finding that one piece of hardware or software that makes the biggest difference and growing from there.
“Every week, every month, you’re showing them incremental value. You’re building a relationship. You’re becoming really important to their operation.”
– Kurtis McBride
“If you can imagine we show up with a, with an iPhone, and we say it’s a flashlight, and you buy it because you want a flashlight,” he says. “Then we come back to you and say, hey, did you know that it’s also a calculator, it’s also Facebook, it’s also phone calls?
“Those are the incremental pieces of value we’re showing you. It’s the power of ‘and.'”
Born an entrepreneur
Miovision isn’t McBride’s first crack at entrepreneurship, and it certainly isn’t his last.
He credits his first business to his mother, who studied biology and worked with mice. After a trip to PJ’s Pet Centre, an 11-year-old McBride returned with a new pet mouse of his own.
He was surprised when it gave birth to seven babies, and even more surprised when he got $2.50 from the pet store in return for the litter. But it gave him an idea.
“My parents just wanted to let me explore the entrepreneurial nature. And then it got pretty crazy.”
– Kurtis McBride
He built a business plan, sourced Tupperware containers and even volunteered at a conservation area to get free wood shavings. He grew the operation to 30 to 40 mice a month, and made about $12 a month from the venture – even though it probably cost more in gas to drive back and forth from the store, he says.
It came to an end when his parents decided to give him an allowance. “So I always say it was my first exit,” he adds.
When Miovision outgrew its old digs at Manitou Drive in Kitchener, Ont., McBride started looking at new office space. Wanting to be near downtown Kitchener, with parking and walking trails at hand, he found the perfect location in an old tire factory.
“We basically took a warehouse that had been empty for 15 years and had buried tires in the dirt parking lot,” he says.
“If you’re a fast-growing technology company with a hardware component to your business, where do you go in town? … Catalyst was meant to solve that problem.”
– Kurtis McBride
With a $55-million transformation, almost 500,000 sq. ft. of IoT manufacturing space – the largest of its kind in the world – was born as Catalyst137. Miovision leases 100,000 sq. ft. of that space themselves and the rest plays home to other IoT companies, a brewery, a restaurant, a fitness centre, a cafe and even an ice creamery.
On top of that, McBride launched another software startup called Meddo, a spin-off from Miovision designed to give project teams a single-view roadmap to organize and manage strategy, work and people. That one’s still in beta.
“I find having other outlets like Catalyst and Meddo gives me places to stick some of that creative energy,” he says. “I look for things where I can learn new challenges, but also where the output of the energy is actually creating an impact.”
Driven by better roads
So what impact is he making with Miovision? It’s not just about efficiency for traffic operators. It’s about better roads for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.
For one, there’s safety. The World Health Organization reports there are 1.35 million road traffic deaths worldwide each year – that’s one fatality every 24 seconds. That makes injuries from accidents the eighth leading cause of death globally.
There’s an environmental cost as well. Harvard estimates about 1.2 million tons of nitrogen oxide, 34,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 23,000 tons of particulate matter in our air can be attributed to traffic emissions in the U.S., which are associated with about 3,000 premature deaths.
“I like working on things that are not obvious, that take a bit of creative energy, but that ultimately have some impact that’s meaningful.”
– Kurtis McBride
Then there’s the health toll that long commutes take. Studies have linked long commutes to a heightened risk for morbidity and mortality in commuters and people living near busy roadways, and a report from the University of Waterloo found that long commutes affect mental health, since drivers experience higher stress levels on the road and have less free time to spend on stress-relieving activities.
All of that costs money, too. Wasted fuel costs may be as high as $74.5 billion in the U.S. alone. The lost value of our time on the road tallies to $87 billion annually, or $1,348 per driver.
All of these are problems a smart city, with smart traffic systems that run like smartphones, can help fix, says McBride.
“Really we can take technologies that have been proven out in other markets, and we can apply them to make traffic either more efficient, safer or just operationally easier to manage.”
- Name: Miovision Technologies Inc.
- Solution: A traffic management and data collection platform that helps build smarter cities.
- Owners: Kurtis McBride and Tony Brijpaul
- Headquarters: Kitchener, Ont.
- Founded: 2005
- Initial investment: $46.5 million
- Contact: [email protected]